Category Archives: Assignment 4

Assignment 4: Tutor Feedback

Before receiving my feedback I was in a bit of a state as I knew I was running behind with my studies , I am sure most of us mature students feel overwhelmed at times and wonder sometimes why we are even doing it. But reading the feedback gave me such a boost making all the hard work worthwhile. I am really happy with Keith’s comments and he has made some interesting suggestions.

Keith remarked my critical review was well written and composed “both your reading and understanding of what you have read are strong…using the appropriate amount of quotes and references. Great work!
I am rather relived as I needed to keep re-structuring the essay until I had the 2000 word requirement and hopefully enough , but not too many , quotes.

Learning Log
I can’t fault this-you literally look at everything suggested , review / evaluate it and post it! Excellent !
Again this was a relief as I personally feel I could do so much more if time allowed but I do try to follow up any of Keith’s reading or research suggestions. I can’t thank him enough for these as they have enabled me to discover artists previously unknown to me and encouraged my growing interest in post-memory and the afterlife of old images.

I have put screen shots of sections of the essay with the annotations and suggestions I need to take note of at the bottom of this post. I am unsure if I need to re-write and include any of the extra research suggestions ( such as Tagg Chapter One) so have emailed Keith to query this but will amend any other as suggested. I was mortified to find out I had misspelt installation nearly throughout the entire essay putting instillation instead except for once ! This was despite being proof read by myself and my eldest daughter (who is a teacher !!!) , no gold star for spelling for either of us.

Suggested reading / research

John Tagg – The Burden of Representation – Chapter 1 – The democracy of the image.

David Bate – The Key Concepts – Chapter 8 – Seeing Portraits

Gordon Hughes – Douglas Heubler : Game Face

Geoffrey Batchen – Photography’s Objects

Andre Bazin – The Ontology of the Photographic Image

Joan Fontcuberta – Stranger Than Fiction

Joachim Schmid – Very Miscellaneous

Tacita Dean – Floh

Erik Kessels – Anything !

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Research : Christian Boltanski

Christian Boltanski b1944 France

I never take photographs myself . I don’t feel like a photographer , more like a recycler . When we look at a photo we always believe that it’s real ; its not real but it has a close connection with reality. If you paint a portrait , that connection is not so close. With a photo you really feel the people were ‘there‘ .
Christian Boltanski
( Semin et al ,1997, p.g 25).

Boltanski was born after the Holocaust and his work explores the gap between memory and postmemory. His mother was a Catholic and his father a Jew , who despite converting to Catholicism was kept hidden under the floorboards of his Paris home during the occupation . He left school at 11 and began to paint , he describes his childhood self as “a little crazy” and “strange” . He never left the family home on his own until aged 18. His work explores loss and death , Marianne Hirsch suggests ‘his paternal history has no doubt determined the shape of his avant-garde photographic career’ (Hirsch, 2012, p.g257) . Yet Boltanski states “there is nothing personal in my work. Ever.” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 27) and maintains his art says something about life , but nothing about himself , his personal life an enigma.

Boltanski searches flea markets and lost property offices for small objects , clothing , magazines , letters , albums and photographs. He re-photographs and deconstructs found images to create new works. The context of the original photographs remain unknown, there is an ambiguity in his instillations and his work demonstrates the disconnection between ‘truth’ and photography. In an interview with Boltanski Rose Jennings of Magazine conjectures his instillations are about the absence of memory.

Martha Langford describes the instillations as ‘fictional biographical reconstructions based on the artist’s hypotheses and deductions from the images’ ( Langford , p.g 32 ,2008). The instillations are frangible , Boltanski states “around half the work I do is destroyed after each show , but the show can always be done again” (Semin et al , 1997, p.g 17) . He believes we forget why monuments have been initially erected if they are permanent . In order to keep remembering they need to be constantly re-constucted.

In Boltanski’s early work he says he “pretended to speak about his childhood , yet my real childhood had disappeared . I have lied about it so often that I no longer have a real memory of this time , and my childhood has become , for me some kind of universal childhood , not a real one” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 8 ) . This ‘early work … devoted to uncoupling any uncomplicated connection between photography and “truth” ‘ (Hirsch , 2012 ,p.g 257) .

10 Photographic Portraits of Christian Boltanski , 1946-1964

The 10 images , all taken under similar circumstances, are purportedly of Boltanski growing up but not all , if any , are of him , we can only surmise . They are intentionally ambiguous and re-invent his childhood as each is captioned with false information altering the context . His work challenges the notion of truth because ‘none of the 10 Photographic Portraits of Christian Boltanski , 1946-1964 is , strictly speaking , falsified :it is the caption that brings it into the field of a lie’ (Semin et al 1997, p.g 86) .

Album de photos de la famille D, 1939-64

Using photographs from the personal albums of Michel Durand-Dessert Boltanski created a new instillation consisting of 150 black and white photographs dating from 1939 to 1964 . Re-shooting the images and arranging them in what he considered a chronological order ‘using what he called an ethnological approach’ ( Perloff , 2003,p.g 32) Boltanski’s work forms a 25 year study of a ‘family’ , albeit a subverted family album.

The re-constructed album cannot tell us anything about the Duand-Dessert family yet despite being viewed out of context Boltanski believes because we can identify with the notion of the family album , it is a ‘collective ritual’ (Perloff , p.g 32) we understand , we are able to “return to our own memories” . Questions may then be formed about the images themselves , what happened to these people? Marianne Hirsch suggests they form ‘a communal memorial layer , unconscious reminiscences and archetypes through which viewers can supply their own stories as they look at his images’ ( Hirsch , p.g 258) .


Using photographs found in Berlin flea markets Boltanski formed a book consisting of 56 black & white photographs . It was designed to look like a normal family photo album yet the ‘family’ members of this constructed album were strangers challenging traditional perception of family photography , ‘Boltanski’s interest in the material resides in its cultural codes’ (Langford , 2008 ,p.g 33) .

In a later instillation , Archives , he mixed images of Jews and Nazi’s , making it impossible to differentiate between victim and perpetrator suggesting the ambivalent nature of what it means to be human , that we are all capable of criminal behaviour. It is possible to be both nice and a monster. What does this suggest about the ‘truth’ of photographs?

Discussing the work Boltanski says “it’s a book with no text , but if you ‘read it’ , it leaves you with a question. Perhaps this is the question about whether one is guilty or not. About being a victim or criminal –or both. But not necessarily about the Holocaust” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 23) .

Hirsch comments ‘in Boltanski’s work the indexical nature of the photograph is in itself a trace as he succeeds in disguising the arbitrary connection between image and referent . Many of his images are , in fact, icons masquerading as indices , or more radically symbols masquerading as icons and indices’ (Hirsch, 2012, p.g 257 )

Menschlich (Humans)

His 1995 instillation parodied The Family of Man

The instillation consisted of 1300 photographs previously used by Boltanski in earlier work which he says includes ” Nazis , Spanish Killers , French victims, Jewish people , etc. I mixed all of them : they no longer had identities. The show was called Menschlich (Humanity) , because the only thing we can say about these people is that they were human. But we can’t judge whether they were good or bad” ( Semin et al , 1997, p.g 26) .

The images were unaesthetic , printed on cheap paper and Boltanski frequently made use of ‘ identity and newspaper photographs that frustrate the viewer’s desire for recognition’ ( Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 71) .
The instillation challenges the notion that photographs alone can ‘make for us the discriminations we might like to make’ (Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 71) .

A series of instillations entitled
Lessons of Darkness
Altar to Chases High School

Boltanski created an instillation from a 1931 class picture of Jewish children at their Viennese high school . Knowing the probable inevitable fate of these children makes this is a particularly poignant instillation yet Boltanski maintains ” my work is about the fact of dying , but it’s not about the Holocaust itself” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 22) . However ‘taken two years before Hitler came to power , we are left to speculate what became of the young men and women shown in this ghostly out-of-focus manner , in a profound demonstration of photography’s elegiac qualities’ ( Badger , 2001, p.g 169)

Re-photographing the children’s faces Boltanski enlarged each individual image , making them unrecognisable , he positioned the new image ‘on top of tin biscuit boxes or mounted them on the wall , illuminating each with a black desk lamp creating a large circle of light at the centre of each picture’ ( Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 260) .The enlarged images look skeletal , Boltanski describes them to Melvyn Bragg in a South Bank Show interview as being “happy faces but inside skeleton” , their fate already written in their youthful faces , to demonstrate how “photography can deceive , manipulate” .

The biscuit tins intrigued me , in an interview with Tamar Garb Boltanski explains “I always try to use forms that people recognise . Take the biscuit tins for example. I use them because I know that people of my generation can recognise them . We have all kept our small treasures in biscuit tins. It also reminds some people of the metal urns where ashes are kept. I suppose I want my art to be more about recognition than discovery” ( Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 24) .

Another fascinating bit of information about the biscuit tins made me smile:
I’ve used a lot of biscuit tins in my work , and in the beginning they were more personal somehow because I peed on them to make them rust. But I was using so many boxes that I couldn’t do this any more , so I started using Coca Cola to rust them. They were easily replaceable and easily rustable. I remember I exhibited them in Hamburg and in Oslo . The piece was sent there , each box wrapped in tissue paper , and when they arrived the curator demanded that all the workers wear white gloves. It was ridiculous because of course the gloves became red in minutes . And the biscuit tins aren’t precious
Christian Boltanski
(Semin et al , 1997 , p.g 17) .

Boltanski explores the tenuous link between truth , memory and photography.
I have enjoyed researching his artwork very much and there much more that I have not had time to follow up and write about . I believe there are elements of his practice that I might be able to draw on for my 5th assignment so will continue with my research into his work—I will not be peeing on biscuit tins though !

References / Bibliography
Badger, G. (2001) The genius of photography: How photography has changed our lives. London: Quadrille Publishing.
Hirsch, M. (2012) Family frames: Photography, narrative, and postmemory. Cambridge, MA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Langford, M. (2008) Suspended conversations: The afterlife of memory in photographic albums. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Perloff , M. What has occurred only once. (2003) In Wells, L. (ed.) The photography reader. New York: London Routledge, 2003.
Semin, D., Garb, T., Kuspit, D. and Boltanski, C. (1997) Christian Boltanski. London: Phaidon Press.
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(Really) Slow progress

I am really behind with my studies as I have been unwell for a couple of weeks . I have been able to do a bit of reading/research but I really need to write my notes up and write my critical review. I am off work until the end of this week and have finally been able to summon up the enthusiasm to recommence on my blog posts & look at the exercises I haven’t done yet for part 4 of the coursework.

I have emailed my tutor tonight to let him know about my delay and also to send him my proposal for assignment 5 .


My tutor suggested I might find some useful ideas if I read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

Chapter 11 : Memes the new replicators discusses Dawkins thoughts on cultural transmission.

Memes: an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.

Meme’s are cultural not genetic , ideas , songs , stories etc invariably alter in each re-telling (rather like Chinese whispers). Each snippet of information is a meme and, however slightly , each eventually become a modified version of the previous meme, which in turn has implications for the use of photography as an aide-mémoire.

Keith’s own visual exploration of Victorian Memes can be seen here

The images of significant spaces /places commemorate the lives of Victorian benefactors who lived in Southport whom ( obviously) are no longer living. Keith’s images re-create and represent the stories left behind.

Dawkins, R. (1989) The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Reading / Research : Memory , Photography , Ireland by Timothy O’Grady

Some brief notes about Memory , Photography , Ireland by Timothy O’Grady , suggested by my tutor.

O’Grady compares photography to a conjuring trick : it allows us to see things we cannot usually see and halts time.

‘Both memory and photography in their way defy how we usually experience time and space–time as inexorable , space as irreducible ‘ (O’Grady, p.g 255 )

A photograph can evoke a range of responses , feelings and impressions:

An image and the intuitions one gets looking at it are linked to memory.

The combination of photograph and impression form a memory but even though memory is capable of merging past and present , it can re-enact these impressions , because of the nature of memory and how it functions , these reconstructions may be flawed.

(NB : See Bate’s essay The Memory of Photography –memory traces / screen memory / photographs as artificial memories + Freud -memory -although we have the ability to recollect what is remembered may not be totally accurate )

Photographs are objects , mementos , tokens , memorials , testimonies.

Photographs are believed to verify events but ‘they can instantaneously upend long-held certainties ‘ O’Grady describes three photographs of his father and realises he knowns nothing about the man in the images ‘ they suggest a life I cannot know’ (O’Grady , 2006 , p.g 255) . I have many photographs of my dad , I too realise I know so little about his earlier life this is something I might investigate in my final assignment.

The essay continues to discuss Irish culture and politics , how ideas are passed on , the formation of national identity and memory .

O’Grady considers the use of words and images , how it is ‘generally intended that one will provide what the other is lacking’ . Words are meant to make an image transparent , a photograph embellish and enrich the text , but as O’Grady comments ‘the result can be a lie’ (O’Grady , 2006 , p.g 260) .

He proceeds with a description of his book , made in collaboration with photographer Steven Pyke , I Could Reach the Sky . A novel about migration and memory ( personal and national ) , a life remembered in words and pictures both of which are unique yet work together , like ‘memory and forgetting’ (O’Grady , 2006 , p.g 261) . I have ordered a copy of the book tonight to add to my ever growing pile of books to read ! It will interesting to see the connotations of the images and how they relate to the prose. I shall do a write up when I have read the book , it’s only a slim volume so hopefully won’t take me too long.

References / Bibliography

Timothy O’Grady (2006) Memory, Photography, Ireland, Irish Studies Review, 14:2, 255-262, DOI: 10.1080/09670880600603729
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Reading / Research : Barthes , Camera Lucida & The missing photograph

Despite having read Camera Lucida a couple of times it was only whilst reading an article by Geoffrey Batchen in Photoworks that I began to think more about the significance of the missing ‘Winter Garden Photograph’ : an image described so eloquently by Barthes but not printed in the book. Reading Camera Lucida moved me to tears and as Batchen points out ’emphasising with the grief stricken author , we find ourselves crying over a photograph that isn’t even there’ ( Batchen , 2013, p.g 43) .

Interestingly Margaret Olin conjectures ‘ the famous Winter Garden Photograph of Barthes’s mother never even existed ‘ (Batchen , 2013 p.g 43) In his book A Short History of Photography Walter Benjamin describes a photograph of Frank Kafka also standing in a winter garden , a book ‘which Barthes would have read’ (Batchen, 2013 p.g 43) . Olin proposes Barthes’s ‘Winter Garden’ image of his mother is derived from Benjamin’s description of Kafka ‘ a writers creative invention’ and ‘is ,by means of mental slippage , a stand-in’ (Batchen, 2013 p.g 43) . In Bate’s essay The Memory of Photography he considers the function of a photograph as an “empty shell” and how ‘the image is used as a space , a location for memory-traces’ (Bate , p.g 254) . Did Barthes replace the image of Kafka with a (? non-existent) photograph of his mother?

Indexicality is especially important in photography because a photograph is believed to contain ‘notions of truth and reality that arise simply because of the chosen medium itself , regardless of its function and intention’ (Short, 2011, pg. 124). Olin comments ‘to the reader of Camera Lucida it should matter little whether it existed or not. The fictional truth of the unseen Winter Garden Photograph is powerful enough to survive its possible non-existence’. However she continues ‘ but the fact that it does matter has consequences for any theory of photographic indexicality. To raise the possibility that these images do not exist and to realise how little their existence matters is to cast this concept into question. The fact that something is in front of the camera matters; what that something was does not . What matters is displaced’ (Olin , 2002 ,p.g 112)

Bate’s essay rather than speculating “what is missing or what cannot be seen in a photograph” considers the nature of photography as a mnemonic referring to Camera Lucida and the contrast between voluntary and what Proust described as “involuntary memory”. As the grieving Barthes’s searched through pictures of his mother ‘looking for the truth of the face I had loved’ (Barthes , 2000 ,p.g 67 ) he describes how a single image evoked an unconscious and private response. The ‘Winter Garden Photograph‘ Barthes comments ‘for once gave me a sentiment as certain as remembrance , just as Proust experienced it one day when , leaning to take his boots off , there suddenly came to him his grandmother’s true face , “whose living reality I was experiencing for the first time , in an involuntary and complete memory” ‘ (Bathes , 2000 , p.g 7 ) .

Bate discusses the function of a photograph as a screen memory but what can an unseen image reveal to the reader of Camera Lucida ? Barthes acknowledges his reaction to the photograph is unique ‘ it exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture …….at most it would interest your studium ; period, clothes , photogeny ; but in it, for you no , wound’ ( Barthes , 2000,p.g 73).
Batchen believes ‘ it’s a brilliant rhetorical manoeuvre , inviting every reader to project their own image of a lost loved one into the void at the heart of his text’ (Batchen , 2013 ,p.g 43) .

Whether the ‘Winter Garden Photograph’ existed or not is irrelevant to me. Camera Lucida was a huge influence when I was working towards my 2nd assignment ( see here ) and reading Batchen’s hypothesis agree with his theory. I was able to ‘read’ an unseen image’, use it as an aide-mémoire , empathised with Barthes’s pain , and used this as a platform from which to continue my own exploration of loss , time and memory.

References / Bibliography
Barthes , R (2000) Camera Lucida . London: Vintage

Batchen , G. (2013) “The Great Unknown” . In Burbridge , B & Davies , C (eds.) Issue 20 Family Politics , Photoworks Annual . Brighton England , pp. 42-47.

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

Margaret Olin (2002) Touching Photographs: Roland Barthes’s “Mistaken” Identification : Representations, No. 80 (Autumn, 2002), pp. 99-118 Published by: University of California Press

Short , M. (2011) Creative Photography:Context and Narrative. Lausanne : Ava Publishing.
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