Tag Archives: archive

The Memory of Photography by David Bate

Just some brief notes on this journal article that I’ve read by David Bate. His paper addresses the “specific contribution that the invention of photography has made to the relation of memory and history” (p.243).

  • Archives – not just photo albums, but also corporate institutions, museums, libraries, estates, state-owned collections, hard drives.
  • Jacques Derrida in Archive Fever states that “an anxiety about memory always has an element of death or “destruction drive”, “of loss” at work in it” (p. 243). I wonder if this would be related to the fear of losing that particular memory?
  • Freud – we use mnemic apparatuses to supplement our memory, i.e. writing notes on paper, wearing spectacles, hearing aids, cameras.
  • The mnemic (artificial) devices we use are modelled on our sensory functions that they designed to supplement.
  • Freud draws a distinction between “Natural Memory” (normal capacity for recollecting memories) and Artificial Memory” (the technical devices are invented to support natural memory). We no longer have to remember everything – can now write it down or save to a hard drive.
  • He argues that “with every tool man is perfecting his own organs … In the photographic camera he has created an instrument which retains the fleeting visual impressions, just as a gramophone disc retains the equally fleeting auditory ones; both are at bottom materializations of the power he possessed of recollection, his memory” (p. 244).
  • If photography is regarded as one of the artificial memory devices that support human memory, what impact has it had on human memory and cultures?
  • Derrida questions whether the psychic apparatus is better represented or is it affected differently by all the technical devices available for archiving and reproduction. (I’m going to have to research Freud’s theories a bit as I really don’t know anything about his work, but from a quick search it seems that psychic apparatus is something to do with the unconscious part of the mind that handles repressed phenomenon). Derrida is of the opinion that the way something is archived affects the inside mental state.
  • Collective Memory: archives, libraries, museums, public institutions were developed for collective public memory. In the 19th century industrialization heralded in a new era of public memory – “commemoration”.  Public monuments were erected and photography was invented. Photography “multiplies and democratizes memory, gives it a precision and a truth never before attained in visual memory and makes it possible to preserve the memory of time and of chronological evolution.
  • Le Goff states that the family album expresses the truth of social remembrance. Looking at family albums is like an initiation rite for new members. The album represents moments of unity from the past that in turn confirm the present unity.
  • The point of view of the family archive is not neutral. Whether the photographs are taken by the father (patri-archive), mother (matri-archive) or children (sibling-archive) this type of photography offers the family (in a loose sense – comprising friendship groups and social networks as well) a new repository for memories. This in turns allows various social groups to find an identity with a common visualized memory.
  • Other types of photographic archives are produced by:
    • the state (e.g. police, government, ethnographic archives)
    • the media (e.g. newspapers, television, documentary archives)
    • the arts (e.g. museums, galleries, private and individual archives)
    • independent social groups (e.g. political, cultural, economic)
  • Derrida argues that an archive is not a question of the past, but rather one of the future. “It is a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow” (p. 248).
  • Photography is one of the most important technological inventions because it develops visual memory – a meta-archive. “It has the capacity to incorporate and absorb other existing visual memory devices within photographic re-presentation” (p 248).

    Nelson’s Column under Construction, Trafalgar Square, 1844 by William Henry Fox Talbot
  • Bate then uses a photograph taken by Fox Talbot in his book Pencil of Nature to illustrate a meta-archive. The photo he refers to is “Nelson’s Column under Construction, Trafalgar Square, London, April 1844”. The photograph denotes the construction of the memorial to Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Nelson perished in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. According to Jacques Le Goff this photograph reveals a double phenomena. On the one hand there is the construction of the memorial in a public space which serves as a literal memory and on the other there is the photograph which is a memory device in and of itself. “The photograph is a means to register the monument space. The memory of Nelson is .. being constructed and re-presented as a subject matter of Talbot’s camera” (p. 249).
  • Prosthetic memory: Michel Foucault postulated that popular memory was obstructed by these “apparatuses” in such a way that “people are shown not what they were, but what they must remember having been” (p. 250). The truth value of archival images is never totally accurate – they are more like “partial truths“. These notions emerge as a public ideology of memory.
  • Not everyone remembers visually (visuel). Some people’s memory is auditory based (auditifs), others remember by gestures and actions (moteurs). However Freud maintains that our childhood memories are mainly visual.
  • Mnemic-traces: our own mental apparatus has an unlimited capacity for new data and “lays down permanent – even though no unalterable – memory-traces of them” (p. 251), while the devices we created to aid our memory are rather imperfect.
  • According to Freud’s book, The Interpretation of Dreams, our “unlimited receptive capacity” is divided into two systems. The perception-consciousness which receives receives sensory perceptions, and sorts them out according to our instinctive impulses. Some of the data is not retained as a permanent record – more like a temporary repository which is wiped clean after each use, while the other permanent traces are “preserved in “mnemic” systems lying behind the perceptual system” (p. 252).
  • No memories are retained in the unconscious (there is no concept of time or reality there) only these mnemic-traces.
  • Memory is located in the preconscious – this is memory we can recall at will. Because it is in the preconscious we can also randomly forget the memory, albeit on a temporary basis, in order to make way for new memories.
  • The memories located in this preconscious-conscious space contain what Freud calls “screen memories”. These are fixed images that we remember from childhood. Freud goes on to say that such memories cannot necessarily be taken as accurate, but should be subjected to an “analytical enquiry” (p. 253).
  • Memories can also be subject to the same process as Freudian slips. I had to refresh my knowledge on Freudian slips, which is explained most eloquently in this BBC Future article so I’m posting the link directly to the article instead of paraphrasing it. Slips of memory have commonly been depicted in art e.g. in surrealism.
  • “Temporarily, the childhood memory can be retroactive … used to represent the thoughts and impressions of a later date (connected in someway to that original memory scene); or else the content of the screen memory has been “pushed ahead”, appears as later and is used to contain an earlier preceding experience” (p.253).
  • A third type of screen memory is also evident where the memory is directly connected with what it screens.
  • These permanent memories are based on a sense of “forgetting” or the substitution of one memory over another (overlaid or embedded inside it). “The work of screen memory has the purpose of having one memory within another one, which functions through repression (resistance to remembering) and displacement” (p. 253).
  • Bate then goes into a lengthy explanation about an image used as a space or location for memory-traces.  Important in this is the distinction between “voluntary” and “involuntary” memory (terms used by Marcel Proust in his work In Search of Lost Time. Roland Barthes’ concept of the punctum corresponds to Proust’s “involuntary memory”. Bate states that the studium is comparable to voluntary memory where cultural and public associations can be made. A punctum is an involuntary response to an image. It makes us react and if we try and find an association by using our memory, this may lead us down a path where we find repressed memories or memory-traces.  “Voluntary memory is like the work of history, but involuntary memory belongs to personal affect” (p. 254).
  • Bate then demonstrates this process by using Fox Talbot’s photograph of Nelson’s Column as an example. Briefly he found that there was something involuntary that was affecting him when viewing this image. Looking back he realised that he was very familiar with Nelson’s history, having grown up in Portsmouth literally in the shadow of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. He states that he had a screen memory stored away from his childhood years. However he later realised that what activated his involuntary reaction to the photo was in fact a novel by Susan Sontag in which Nelson was featured. “This book has triggered retroactively a personal memory via a photographic image” (p. 255).
  • I have to wonder if this punctum/involuntary memory is always triggered by a repressed memory or can it be applied to a surprised reaction (i.e. one where no memory can be discerned) as well?
  • Memory is both fluid and fixed. It is also social and personal.
  • “In terms of history and memory, photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reverie” (p. 256).
Reference List

Bate, David (2010). The Memory of Photography. Photographies, 3:2, p 243-257, DOI: 10.1080/17540763.2010.499609

Gorvett, Zaria  (2016). What Freudian Slips really reveal about your mind [online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160706-what-freudian-slips-really-reveal-about-your-mind [Accessed 25 March, 2017]

Time (2012) Sigmund Freud’s Theories [online]. Available at: http://www.the-philosophy.com/sigmund-freud-theories [Accessed 22 March, 2017]


Exercise 3.1

The brief:

Go through your photographic archive and select around ten pictures. Separate them into two piles: one entitled ‘mirrors’ and the other entitled ‘windows’.

  • What did you put in each pile and why?
  • Did you have any difficulties in categorising them?

You may like to repeat the exercise with some different images and record your responses. It would be interesting to see you place the same image in both camps and review your reasons for doing so.

In doing a quick scan through my photographic archive, it seems that I may have an equal amount of mirror and window images. This may possibly be because I take a fair amount of photos of student events and staff and faculty headshots at work, but I have always loved street photography and landscape/travel images as well.

Street portrait - Cuba - Lynda Kuit 2013
Street portrait – Cuba – Lynda Kuit 2013

Two happy, carefree youths in the streets of Havana, reflecting the attitude of the Cuban people.

Bo-Kaap Malay Quarter - Cape Town - Lynda Kuit 2016
Bo-Kaap Malay Quarter – Cape Town – Lynda Kuit 2016

Another blast from my past. An area on the outskirts of the city of Cape Town which has undergone major renovation, while remaining true to its character. The colourful houses reflect the personalities of the inhabitants.

Self-inflicted pain - Lynda Kuit 2015
Self-inflicted pain – Lynda Kuit 2015

This image is a true mirror of me during my recovery time after undergoing knee replacement surgery.

Model Shoot – Lynda Kuit 2011

The first time I ever did a model shoot during a photography class. Learning all about studio lighting here.

Spartan Race - Lynda Kuit 2011
Spartan Race – Lynda Kuit 2011

One of my assignments while doing a documentary course. I documented some of the action during the Spartan Race, a grueling obstacle race.

My old neighbourhood - Lynda Kuit 2016
My old neighbourhood – Lynda Kuit 2016

This image is a mirror for me as it is one of the neighbouring farms to the farm where I spent my teenage years. It represents many happy memories of hanging out with my friends at this old farmhouse. However, it can also serve as a windows image, being on the wine route of Stellenbosch and a place of enormous interest.

Book Sellers in the square, Havana – Lynda Kuit 2013

The square outside the Palacio de los Capitanes in Havana where revolutionary Cuban literature is the order of the day. One would be hard pressed to find a book that is not about Fidel Castro or Che Guevara.

José Rodriguez Fuster’s home, Havana – Lynda Kuit 2013

Cuban artist Jose Fuster’s home in Havana. His entire house is decorated with mosaic ceramic sculptures inspired by Picasso. He has decorated about 80 houses in his neighbourhood in a similar fashion. Video about him can be seen here.

Betty's Bay, South Africa - Lynda Kuit 2016
Betty’s Bay, South Africa – Lynda Kuit 2016

A window into the coastal town of Betty’s Bay, near Cape Town in South Africa. Mainly it is a fishing village, but also containing Stony Point Nature Reserve which is home to one of the largest breeding colonies of the African Penguin in the world.

Muizenberg Beach, Changing Huts, South Africa - Lynda Kuit 2016
Muizenberg Beach, Changing Huts, South Africa – Lynda Kuit 2016

Historical changing huts on Muizenberg Beach. These huts are featured on many advertising promos ranging from colour printers to tourism.

Occupy Vancouver protest – Lynda Kuit 2011

Some street photography during the Occupy Vancouver protests.

High tide and sunrise over Finn Slough.
High tide and sunrise over Finn Slough, Richmond, Vancouver – Lynda Kuit 2014.

Finn Slough, a heritage Finnish fishing settlement and wetlands society in Richmond, Vancouver. An extremely interesting place where the inhabitants are subject to the tides. At low tide they are surrounded by mud, at high tide they are surrounded by water.

Table Mountain at sunset, Cape Town – Lynda Kuit 2016

Another window image which could also be a mirror for me. At one time in my childhood I used to live close to this spot and would see this view very often.

I didn’t have much difficulty in placing my images in the two categories. Granted I can see that I can have quite a bit of cross-over between the two. It all depends from where one is seeing the photograph and how much memory is attached to the image.

Reference List

Visual Arts (n.d.) José Fuster Painter – Sculptor [online] Havana Cultura. Available at: http://havana-cultura.com/en/visual-arts/jose-fuster [Accessed 22 November, 2016]

Picturing the family

Today I came across this Open University free course quite by accident. Because it was about family archives and would be relevant to this module I immediately enrolled in the course.

I was suitably impressed with this course. It covered the history of photographic portraiture in very digestible bit sizes of information – just enough to put everything into context and lay out a good foundation of understanding the genre. What I also found so illuminating was the importance of understanding the social mores and culture of the specific time.

The course began by introducing the concept of idealisation which was, of course, prevalent in painting portraiture. It was a fundamental belief that the artist had to highlight the sitter’s best features in the most flattering way and hide the sitter’s blemishes in the shadows of the portrait. Anything less than a perfect rendition of the sitter was regarded as crude.

Interestingly there is a portraiture hierarchy. At the highest level one has the historic or grand style. This style depicted scenes of heroic action or suffering taken from the Bible, Greek and Roman history and other legends. The painters were heavily influenced by the sculptors at that time in depicting the “perfect man or woman”.

The camera’s ability to capture a true likeness in an extremely short amount of time was regarded to be a disadvantage and the products were regarded as inferior. Photographers too, tried to comply with the concept of idealisation because that was what society was used to. There was a written imperative for achieving the best portraits. They were to represent not only the form, not be a mere map of the face, but they were to reveal the mind of the subject as well. This added a spiritual and moral dimension to their work.

Wedding PhotoCharacterization was an important element in photographic portraiture. Its primary objective was to render a characteristic likeness, and secondly to render the likeness in a pleasing manner by careful selection of the angle and pose of the sitter.

There were strict rules regarding Victorian portrait photography. The facial expression was the most important element. It was to be formal and unsmiling. If there was a smile it was to be a very faint one. Direct overhead lighting was to be avoided because of the racoon-like shadows that were cast under the eyes. The room the photographer was shooting in should be dark in order to enlarge the pupils of the sitter.

A lot of sexual stereotyping took place at this time. Men were photographed in a huge variety of poses, standing, sitting, legs astride, hands on hips, using umbrellas or canes. Their poses indicated a degree of action or impending action, and suggested they were more at ease with the world, figures of authority. Women, on the other hand, had to be photographed as demure and calm. Their feet had to be photographed together (for modesty’s sake) and their arms were always kept close to their body implying self-containment. They were usually photographed seated or standing showing very little interaction.

Backdrops also played an important role in studio photography and idealisation. The backdrop offered up an anonymous setting which removed people from their various backgrounds and circumstances. The poor could have their photograph taken in front of a backdrop of a upper-class sitting room just as equally as the rich people could. Props were often used. Books symbolised literacy and were often used in the photographs of people who could not read. Retouching and colourisation were also dealt with.

Frontispiece - Art of RetouchingThe course then went into the details of Victoria camera culture, delving into the various types of photographs that would appear in a photo album, e.g. records of achievement, prized possessions, special occasions and rites of passage. Of particular interest here were the different categories of the rites of passage and the subtle nuances that one has to be aware of when looking at historical photographs.

Open air photography was dealt with next concentrating on the itinerant photographer roaming the streets to do street photography and those who did seaside photography.

This course has stressed that photographs are partial and biased and that photography needs critical analysis and careful interpretation. Particular attention should always be paid to the importance of contextualisation when analysing photographs.

Reference List

OpenLearn (2016). Picturing the family [online] The Open University. Available at: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/culture/visual-art/picturing-the-family/content-section-0 [Accessed 7 August, 2016]




Exercise 1.4 Archival Intervention

The brief:

Look through your own family archive and try to discover a series of portraits that have existed within this archive, but have never been placed together before … whichever way you wish to tackle this exercise, there must be a reason or justification for your choices. What message are you trying to get across about these portraits?

… you are physically bringing together portraits that have never been viewed as a series prior to your intervention. Therefore, you need to think really clearly about what your choices are and who you decide to select.

This exercise has been far more challenging that I thought possible.  I spent two days sifting through family photographs from both my side of the family and my husband’s. At first I thought of creating a family tree of the men in our family: my father, father-in-law, husband and two sons and I played around with some options for this. But this would be quite a big project, so I’ll shelve that for a later date. It will definitely be interesting to expand that idea.

I finally decided today to create an archive of my father. My father is going on for 91 and not in the best of health, so in a way, this is a tribute to him. It is an archive about the passing of time. I have used the photographs in their original state and not convert the two colour photos to monochrome. Ulrich Baer (2008, p. 54), in his essay, ‘Deep in the Archive’ poses the question in his opening statement “What belongs in an archive?” An historian would probably provide a very concise answer to this question. “Everything that someone does not wish to forget and everything that someone believes will hold the key to the future”, states Baer (2008, p. 54). We should bear in mind that whatever we place in an archive, be it photographs, letters, or documents, can take on a new life retroactively.

Archives bestow legitimacy and preserve certain forms of knowledge. The also transmit culturally and historically specific modes of remembrance, and they produce knowledge in their own right by rendering permanent things that fit within available and accepted modes of storage, capacity for iteration, and retrieval.

Baer (2008)

My father was born in South Africa in 1925. His mother, Lourenza, was a dedicated school teacher and taught primary school until she was about 75 years old. I have a particular fond memory of her using various teaching aids that she had created to teach my tables. I believe my grandfather, Lambertus Petrus worked in insurance. My father is the oldest of three children, all with a gap of seven years between each sibling. Both my uncles passed away in their early sixties. My father and his brothers all attended Grey College, which is the third oldest school in South Africa and can boast of many international rugby and cricketers amongst its alumni.

My father dreamt of becoming a medical doctor and went to the University of Stellenbosch to study.  However, money was very tight during the war years and he had to leave university after only one year. He then joined the Royal Dutch Shell company in South Africa, where he remained for the rest of his working life, starting out in the mailroom and ending his successful career there as Marketing Director.

The photos I have put together for this archive represent my father from the age of three through to the age of eighty-five. The first image of my father standing on a chair, aged three, is a photo that was sent to his aunt. I have no idea what the origin of the strange outfit is that he is wearing – there might be a backstory to that, I will probably never know. The following image is a group family photo featuring my father, his brothers, mother and father, taken one year after the birth of my father’s youngest brother. The third photo in the first gallery is my father proudly showing off his new born daughter (me). In the second gallery, the first photo is another group family photo (same subjects as in the second photo in the first gallery), with the inclusion of me, the first grandchild. The image in the middle of the second gallery features four generations of the Zaayman clan/descendants: my grandmother, father, step-mother, myself and my children. The final image is of my father sitting in his wheelchair in his garden gazing pensively out at the mountains in the distance.

Stood alone, these photographs are all just happy snaps and not very good quality ones at that either, but combined into a sequence they take on more depth, more context.  All but one bear the marks and wear and tear of time past. One overlooks the imperfections and pays attention to the narrative running through the series. Its a story of family, a sense of belonging, heritage and identity.  We can see the various identities that my father assumed at the stages in his life: young toddler, teenage schoolboy, new father, family man, retiree and finally an octogenarian. This archive represents life to me. The passage of time where new lives come into being, growth and the inevitable passing away of loved ones – the cycle of life – my dad’s life.

Finally Baer (2008) reminds us that “the question of what enters an archive is never as important as what will find its way back out into the light.”

Reference List

Baer, Ulrich (2008). ‘Deep in the Archive’ In: Aperture 193, Winter 2008, p. 54-58 [Online]. Available at: http://issues.aperture.org/20080404#!/54 (Accessed 2 June, 2016)

análekta: The floweriness, The bareness

Análekta means “to gather up; to collect” and this is what Merle Addison has done with this exhibition at the Grunt Gallery.  This series marks his switch from analogue to digital, using previously made images and reworking them with digital overlaps and hand-drawn lines.

Análekta at the Grunt Gallery
Análekta at the Grunt Gallery

The results are quite spectacular. Yes, most of the images are of flowers and nature, but quite unlike anything that I have seen before. As Dana Claxton states in her monograph ‘Merle has created photos that can be read as spiritual within the realm of the work’s own materiality.’ There is definitely a sense of serenity that is invoked when viewing his images. Even overlays of flowers with hand-drawn lines squiggling across the surface seem to mesh and meld into a strong sense of unity.

In his artist’s statement, Addison states:

Although generally I use photographic images and related processes as the start of the work, I don’t think of the final image as a photograph. Indeed in terms of how a photograph should look is not a concern. How the individual print looks is; the line, colour and textures of my world that I use to share my apophenia. There is an almost inherent lack of control that is integral to my work. Meaning defined and experience sensed is never the same.

Merle Addison

I find it interesting that he does not consider the photograph as the final outcome, but I suppose that would make sense seeing that he still manipulates the image further after doing digital overlays by adding hand-drawn lines.

His images are the kind where one really has to sit, look closely and meditate a lot. Surrounded by his images is a little like sitting in a shady arbour of wisteria and other botanical delights.

Ruby's light by Merle Addison
Ruby’s light by Merle Addison

In creating this oevre, Addison has drawn upon his own image archive bank. In some of the images, scratched lines, archival goo and film emulsions are evident in the work and these extra layers add to the depth of the work hinting at time and space.

These are images that will connect with everyone. How one will interpret them depends, I think, very much on on’s mood at the time of viewing.

Reference List

análekta (2016). Grunt Gallery. Available at: http://grunt.ca/exhibitions/analekta-by-merle-addison/ [Accessed 17 April, 2016]

Claxton, Dana (2016). Sharing Apophenia – Getting Lost in Merle Addison’s Beauty. Vancouver: Grunt Gallery