Echoes – Memory project

Magdalen Bridge

Magdalen Bridge

I’m thinking of transferring the work that I’ve been doing with the ‘Echoes Group’ – which I had started originally as a documentary project for assignment one but then thought that it would be right to continue with the Group as part of the Documentary course that I’m also undertaking here. I am rethinking the work that I want to do for Documentary which will leave the ‘Echoes Group’ available for this course.

I became involved with the Group partly due to wanting to develop a new network, partly to want to find something valuable that I could use as part of Assignment One. I wasn’t sure whether they would want me, but I am happy to say that I am nearly through the process of being awarded an Honorary Contract with the NHS which will help enormously to develop my integration into Artscape who, amongst many other projects, sponsor ‘Echoes Group’.

Fusion Arts display at Echoes Group

Fusion Arts display at Echoes Group

My project, which has been going a few weeks now centres around photography, re-photography and the development of a memoir by creating a collage that represents a specific portrait. The portrait, as I’ve explained could be a holiday portrait, a familial portrait or anything that inspires the ‘users’ to remember potentially disparate things and weave together a narrative around these images. I have suggested that they bring in old photographs or objects; I will either scan the 2D objects or photograph the 3D objects and then present them with photographs, that they can assemble together with ‘links’ that they can ‘see’ a ‘story’. I have to say that I was concerned at the beginning of the project whether they would become involved with the concept, but the last couple of weeks have been extremely positive and they are actively becoming involved. I have a lot of scanning to do and a lot of photographs to print!

The majority of the portraits are of family and/or holidays, but one or two are starting to think about possibly deeper subjects, about personal relationships, about connections between objects and people. I had thought that I would print A4 portraits, but I suspect that they will need to be A3 minimum and perhaps even A2. One of the ‘users’ used to a be a keen amateur photographer and brought his Nikon FE camera and to encourage him I gave him a roll of XP2 and asked him to make a self portrait, using memorabilia as well as any pictures – he will bring those pictures next week – something I am looking forward to.

There is though a dark cloud looming on the horizon. As part of the NHS (it’s safe in our hands!) cutbacks, there is talk that this group may be wound down. The level of clinical and supervisory staff required to run such a group – off campus – is starting to become an issue, as I am told. One possible outcome is that someone like me – a volunteer – maybe asked to provide a certain amount of cover (the clinical staffing requirement cannot be reduced for obvious reasons) and there have been a few meetings over the last few weeks to think about the future of this and other initiatives for those diagnosed with Dementia. That being said I am hopeful at least to conclude my project by the end of the summer term (Echoes runs to an educational calendar) and then see the work exhibited at the Warneford exhibition space.

My hopes therefore are that, if I decide to feature ‘Echoes’ in Gesture & Meaning that I could use these photo montage/collages as my submission for assignment two – they won’t have been done by me, but under my direction these images will have been created.

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14 thoughts on “Echoes – Memory project

  1. This sounds very interesting John. I’ve just been re-reading Camera Lucida and Geoffrey Batchen’s Photography Degree Zero which is a compilation of essays about Camera Lucida. Barthes’ thoughts on photography and memory are interesting…he says at one point “not only is the Photograph never, in essence, a memory… but it actually blocks memory, quickly becomes a counter-memory” . In other words he believes that photographs replace actual lived experiences in people’s memories. I must say this squares with my own experiences. When I think of things that have happened to me in the past I often think of a photograph of an event, rather than the event itself….just a thought….may or may not be relevant to what you are doing…Good luck with the project and I hope the cutbacks don’t get you!!

    • I think memory is rather more complicated than Barthes’ analysis allows for and our understanding of this subject has moved on greatly in recent decades. Of course it is possible for real memories to be supplanted by false ones and photographs could play a part in that process. However they can also be a memory aid and bring back things that had slipped into far corners of the mind. And I suspect that they can quite often do both.

  2. That’s really interesting Keith! There’s been a lot about how the photograph is a lie in the fora just recently and what you say chimes very well with my feelings also.
    You say it ‘blocks memory’ I think I understand it as perhaps that it provides an ‘alternate memory’, by, as you say blocking access to ‘real memory’ and substituting the framed – perhaps stylised – image for actuality. By stylised I mean that we might re-read (and continue to re-read) the photograph to (mis or re) represent the event that has been recorded, albeit mechanically.
    It is quite fascinating to listen to the ‘users’ recall their memory to their own photographs of events, that must be very personal to them as they have kept them for – in some cases -most of their lives – 60 or 70 years. I wonder if the photographs develop mythological status in their lives….
    Thanks for that thought, very interesting…..

    • I am sure that photographs do achieve mythological status in people’s minds….the happy holiday family portrait becomes the favoured memory of an otherwise unhappy holiday experience and so on. It is interesting that Venture Photography who have a chain of High Street portrait studios offer packaged ‘lifestyles’ for families. You choose your ‘style’ which is about ‘capturing you and your family interacting in an exciting and spontaneous way’. For example you can elect for ‘The Story Of Happy Families’ or ‘The Story Of Daddy’s Ticklish Whisker’ or a fantasy theme such as ‘The Story Of A Dream Come True’. You have to wonder whether people looking back on the photographs made to these themes come to regard them as reality? Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Baudrillard’s simulacra come to mind.

      • Do you know I’ve seen those ‘mythological happy family shots” hanging pride of place in sitting rooms when I know and the owners know I know that happy isn’t an adjective that could describe their family unit. So, rather than blocking a memory, it’s inventing a memory…..more to think about!

  3. This sounds like a fascinating project and I can see why the users are getting so into it. I hope it continues to go well and look forward to the next instalment.

    • One of the most moving ‘portraits’ is one where there are a couple who come, one of whom is now the full time carer for the other. The affected half of the couple is seriously struck by the condition and cannot really communicate – however before succumbing to the condition was a doctor. The other has constructed a portrait with pictures of school/Oxford university honours/ Medical school certificates as if to say this person was not only a full member of society but made a valuable and worthwhile contribution to the welfare and living standards of many many people in their life. As if to not only celebrate but to remind people that what is now wasn’t before, and that what was before was something very valuable.

      • That is interesting. One of the things I often ponder on is how limited our imaginations are. It’s very difficult to overwrite the present – what’s in front of us now – with the past. Or more prosaicallt, to get under a surface impression that you know to be false (e.g. you may know someone has died hair or a wig, but try looking at them and having a clear mental picture of their ‘real’ hair). I think that is part of the power of photographs as a record, however limited and potentially deceptive, of something that is no more. The human mind is a fascinating study.

  4. In the case above I think what I was trying to say, albeit rather feebly, was that the portrait is one that attempts to reinstate the person, to re-present them as they were, almost reincarnating their memory of how that person is to be remembered – showing that that memory is still alive. That the demented person somehow isn’t the person they fell in love with, and thereby forcing the viewer to confront their own contemporary ‘view’ and challenging it with an un-verisimilitudinal portrait. If any of that makes sense?

    • Whilst reincarnating someone to their former self has some positive aspects in that it may well force the present day spectator to reconsider how they view someone, it is also a little sad. In a way I would like to think that we could celebrate the continued presence of the person also…

      • The couple I have been talking about still display a huge tenderness towards each other – and I am not making judgements – but I wonder about the one left to see how the other has transformed, I remember reading Alan Bennett’s conflictions in ‘Untold Stories’. I don’t think that by portraying the ‘before’ it is an essential abandonment of the ‘now’. As Barthes says in Camera Lucida…”For it is not indifference which erases the weight of the image…..- but love, extreme love.”

  5. Interesting that we could be so cynical about photographs and yet still want to be photographers!
    I do hope that the Project will continue because it’s doing very important work.

    • I hope I haven’t sounded cynical about the photograph. What I think I am seeing is the potential of the image to provide an emotional strength, even if the image itself provides a barrier to the reality that once was.

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