This exercise asked that I recreate a childhood memory in a photograph. While I considered a number of ideas for this exercise, the memory I ultimately decided to recreate was actually a photograph that I used to happen upon every once in a while rummaging through the kitchen dresser in my parents house. The photograph was of my brother standing in our back garden, with his back to the relatively plain boundary wall. The photograph wasn’t particularly interesting, and it might have seemed to have been taken in a haphazard manner, if judged by the addition of various pieces of garden furniture and the dustbin. What was interesting about this photograph was that my brother’s head had been cut out, leaving a gaping hole. My understanding is that my brother, then in his early teens, while involved in bicycle road racing, required a passport type photograph for his racing license. Rather that go and specifically have passport photographs taken, he, or rather my father, opted to use the remaining exposures on a roll of 35mm colour film in my father’s camera.
While home over Christmas, I tried in vain to find the picture that forms the basis for such a vivid memory. I also failed to locate my brother’s racing license. My parents carried out something of a clear out in recent years, but I can’t imagine them throwing out the photographs, or at least they didn’t admit to throwing them out.
Regardless of the missing original, I decided to shoot a similar photograph in my own backyard, putting myself in place of my brother. Like the original, I included the rough surroundings to give a sense of depth, time and place to the image. The cut away section of the photograph only gives you so much information about the person in the image, from which you can ascertain a rough time period. The image below, although missing the head, tells many stories. Viewed in years to come, especially for the people who know the surrounding, the items present, each have a unique history.
Approximately two years ago, while working on The Art of Photography module, I came across a short feature in The Sunday Times Magazine, entitled, Missing Something. It was a series of posed portraits in which the head was missing. At the time I had an instant recollection of my brother’s picture. As I read on, it became clear that the images were what was discarded after the head portion of the photograph had been used for passports. Photographer Martina Bacigalupo discovered the images in the city of Gulu, Uganda, while working as an NGO. While there she entered the Gulu Real Art Studio owned by Obal Denis. Denis said that most of his customers didn’t wish to pay for a strip of 4 images from his passport photo machine, favouring the cheaper option instead of a single photograph, in which he could remove the head. This last thought is possibly reminiscent of my own father’s thought process regarding my brother’s need for a passport photograph. There was a perfectly good camera with film nearing the end of the roll in our house and I imagine the my brothers passport photograph didn’t necessitate the strict standard required by the passport office.
Each of the images from the Gulu Real Art Studio seems to tell the story of the hopes and dreams of the people living in a part of the world savaged by poverty and war. At the time I made some notes in my offline learning log. Below, I’ve included a few of the more interesting comments that I made two years ago.
“It’s interesting to think about the boy in the oversized suit jacket. Was this photograph taken for a passport to a better life ? Where is he now ? How ? Why ? I’ve seen something like this before by Natasha Caruana, entitled ‘Fairytale for Sale’. Caruana created a series using images from the internet in which women selling their wedding dresses appeared in photographs with their faces removed or blacked out, allowing them to remain anonymous.”
The photograph of the boy in the oversized coat is linked here.
Update 19th May 2016
My tutor made an interesting connection between this exercise and Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author. This exercise is quite a good representation of Barth’ notion of authorship. Essentially, once an idea or concept is committed to paper, the author loses control. I created a photograph which has any number of reading, depending on the perspective, background etc.. of the reader. By cutting the head from my photograph, with the intention of restricting meaning to imitate a memory from my childhood, I have actually done the opposite and broadened the scope of reading. Where the complete image presents any number of question in the viewer, the altered image seems only to increase the number of question. It is interesting to consider, that while trying to channel the viewer towards my intended meaning, I was relinquishing more and more control of authorship, to the viewer.
Follow the link to my post on Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author.
Barthes, R. (1977) Image, Music, Text, translated by Heath, S., London: Fontana Press.
Caruana, N. (2016) Natasha Caruana [online], available: http://www.natashacaruana.com/work/fairytale_for_sale [accessed 10 Jan 2016].
Shore, R. (2013) ‘Gulu Real Art Studio by Martina Bacigalupo’, Elephant Magazine, 22/Sept, available : http://www.frameweb.com/news/gulu-real-art-studio-by-martina-bacigalupo [accessed 10 Jan 2016].
I have have been unable to locate the information to correctly reference the original article entitled, Missing Something, which appeared in The Sunday Times Magazine approximately two years ago.