When we talk about the family photo archive we could think that is a sophisticated system of storage and classification of photographs that allow us to access and locate quickly and efficiently any photograph, collection, or album, but based on my experience that “archive” is “organized in packets or drawers, some may be in albums, others scattered around in a disorderly way” (Patricia Holland) that do not seem to obey any specific chronology, leaving to the judgment of the compiler the criteria (if any) for the inclusion and the order of appearance.
No matter how we store and organize our pictures, either in drawers, plastic bags, albums or digitally disseminated in various media: CD, DVD, Cloud…, every person and family keeps these pictures between their more valuable and precious belongings, impossible to throw them away.
I have always considered family albums as an important support of family collective memory, but they only represent a small collection of milestones in the narrative of the family. The history of my family is marked by the sign of emigration in the late 50s. However, exploring the family archive I didn’t find photographs that allows me to draw this story continuously, at least for all family members. In the continuum of the narrative leaps occurs: since the mid-50s there are a bunch of photos showing my father, aunts and their friends, mostly walking on the streets of Vigo, where life seems to pass with complete normality and even some relief; the next group of photos that I found are the ones taken in the early 60s in Venezuela, where most of the family members established in the late 50s; these pictures shown the newly incorporated family members (wives, husbands, children)- But, what happened in that period of 4 or 5 years which seems to be no photographs at all?
The family photographs tend to include only certain designated familiar events (celebrations, meetings, holidays and other extraordinary events in the personal biographies), forgetting to show the familial “backstage” or everyday life events. And this is more true at a time when photography was not routinely accessible to everyone. In the pictures of the mid-50s, all pictures were taken in the street and I assume the intervention of a professional street photographer. All the scenes repeat the similar pattern: a group photo of young friends walking on a street of the city, undoubtedly not a candid shot but a pose, and with no other intention than to say “we were there”. In the early 60s and we have pictures taken inside the houses, documenting relaxed moments of family life, especially those one tracking the childhood of the newly arrived members. Families already have their own camera and they have access to photography, but because of its high price, is still used with moderation, accompanying the family only in his time of leisure.
As Patricia Holland states in her essay on personal photography “These pictures do not stand alone but are enriched by memory, conversation, anecdote and whispered scandal”, and I would add that they help to preserve the memories associated with a long-gone era in a vivid way. Full reading and interpretation of these pictures is exclusively reserved for the subjects and actors who participated in the represented scenes, that relying on these photographs to conjure up memories and anecdotes related to those times.
Among the family photos is also found some studio portraits and passport photos, the less readable of all the family archive, since they don’t introduce any kind of temporary, space or personal reference that allows to contextualize correctly the subject. These are precisely the photos I wanted to use for this small photographic project that I will try to extend to the widest possible number of family members.
The idea is that each member of the family poses showing his/her own chosen portrait from the family photographic archive, with a background as neutral as possible. The more distant in time is the portrait, the more we will appreciate the pass of year on the subject face. It’s a chronotype, in which a current image of the subject is confronted with an old photo of him/herself. Here again I like to experiment with the idea of the distance, the distance that separates two moments in the biography of the subject. An immense leap in the personal narrative that suddenly seems empty, as if only have existed these two moments showed in the portrait. The subject holds his/her distant past, and remains attached to it by a thin umbilical cord: the certainty that both share the same identity to some extent.
It is interesting to reflect on the knowledge we currently have on our identities in the past. Surveyed some of the subjects, they admit that the memory of their identity of those years is very weak, and almost none keep memory of the circumstances of the day when the old portrait was taken, not even the place where it was made.
These photos don’t generate any particular memory of the past, they don’t have the ability to awaken in our memory any association with events in the past, they don’t draw any feature of our personality. They are flat portraits, which only serve to confirm our physical appearance in those days. And I wanted that the subject again to pose again for this portrait without expression on his/her face, inviting the viewers (that could be the subject him/herself) to make their own interpretation: “you don’t expect to find any answer on my face, I invite you to draw up your own conclusions”
What kind of connection you can set both portraits of the subject? What responsibility has the subject of the past on the identity of the subject of the present? Apart from the known fact that it is the same person are we able to recognize our identity on the of the subject that appears in the picture that we hold?