Ways of Remembering

Berger (1978) begins his essay Ways of Remembering by examining what was before photography. He concludes his examination with the answer of the faculty of memory. I struggle to remember a time where the world I live in wasn’t recorded through a camera. I expressed myself through the designated arts curriculum at school, but often made photographs at home without really thinking too much about it. This was growing up in the 1990’s where photography was most definitely the norm and very much embedded within the family home. He talks about a photograph as a trace of a memory, it only holding whatever the lens captures at that very second, a set of appearances. There is no background to the image, as with memory. Memory fails to examine the events around a particular event, just a set of appearances, just like the camera (you probably never imagine what is set up behind the photographer, or slightly left of the frame, do you?) Berger goes on by looking at the usability of photography and why it is so popular. He states:

The photograph offers a set of appearances prised away from their context and therefore their meaning, because meaning is always a question of process- meaning lies in narrative, meaning is born out of development and process.

This particular thought made me consider my collage works. I often find it difficult to express any type of meaning or reasoning to why they were made. Why did I choose that particular book, to cut out that image of that particular houseplant and pair it with a black and white image of a woman with a considerable amount of pubic hair? I have no hidden narrative in creating this collage, no moral to convey to an audience, so perhaps the lack of meaning is born out of the process itself. I am removing it by overworking it. Collage is prising photographs even further away from their original context. I am taking photographs of which I have no idea on their original existence, I know nothing about the woman with the pubic hair, and I know nothing about the house in which the houseplant is kept. These images are then cut, thus removing any remaining meaning and context they were holding onto, and pasted into a mixture of other appearances, finishing with a transparent image with no attached meaning.  This transparency leads to a communication with my audience. I don’t need a meaning or a message to communicate with an audience, just the practice itself. The ‘violence’ of process as Berger puts it, destroys meaning. In relation to this point, I looked at the featured image of this post in more detail. A plant of some description, placed on a modern surface. To me, that plant holds resonance, a reminder of a trip somewhere, a fun day where that plant stopped me in my tracks in order to record its very being. An exact recording of an event, yet it holds no relevance to anyone except me, or perhaps anyone who shared my fondness it for it whilst visiting the National Media Museum. A viewer can then attach their own meaning to it, as mine is completely removed in the eyes of a new audience. The violence continues, in the public photograph severed from life when it was taken. By discovering this, I have relaxed the boundaries I had imposed on myself for making work in a particular way, and in turn been a lot happier and a lot more confident in the results.

Berger metaphorically compares the systematic use of photography with the all-seeing eye, which saw to judge. The recording of all events judges nothing, yet they still exist to do so. This thought made me question why I photograph the everyday in such a banal and unorganised fashion. Do I record unconscious thoughts around me in order to forget? To take in every event and discard the ones I don’t wish to store photographically and mentally? I link this idea back to the notion that we are no longer living in the now, but actually more obsessed with living in the past or future. Mass consumption of imagery has provided us with a basis where we shoot now, and look later. A time starved generation that are conditioned to believe they cannot live in the now.

Photographs can have context created for them, and in turn achieve their purpose. Berger states that the better than photograph, the fuller the context that can be created. The photographs I use were not taken by me; does this mean they are void of context? I believe it may be the case in the first instance, as the imagery is in fact not my own. In choosing that particular image however, brings it into a new context, a new meaning by curating this tiny little exhibition of existing visual culture every time the glue dries on a page.

Berger, J. (1978). as cited in  Evans, J. (1997) The camerawork essays, context and meaning in photography. New York University Press: New York.

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