Category Archives: Lorie Novak

Research : Lorie Novak

Lorie Novak , b1954 American

In his feedback for Assignment 2 Keith suggested I look at the work of Lorie Novak who explores the relationship between memory and photographs. She works “with slide projections that embed archival images , both private and public , into new composite visual texts” ( Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 212 )

Fragments and Past Lives

Using her family archive of photographs Novak tries to untangle and understand past histories , stories not immediately evident in the family snapshots , “ what was, and was not , photographed fascinated ” her ( Novak , 2013 p.g 195 ) . Her collection of family photographs reminds me very much of my own , we were born in the same year. Her work evolved to include public images from magazines and newspapers feeling she “needed more than the insular world of my family’s snapshots as material ” ( Novak 2013 ,p.g 195 ) .

Her idealised childhood photographs from the 1950’s became the focal point of her instillations . She examines her own “documented history against the backdrop of public images” ( Novak Fragments pdf p.g 8) and investigates ” how we come to know the world and ourselves through photographs” ( Novak Fragments pdf p.g 8) .Using slide projections Novak discovered she ” could make memories materialise ” ( Novak 2013 , p.g 195 ) . Her criteria for the selection of images was based on “ones that were evocative of the genre and the times rather than my own personal narrative” (Novak 2013 p.g 195 ) , she was conducting an investigation into the connection between individual and communal memory .

Her family achieve of photographs suggest an idyllic era , but “nothing was as picture-perfect as it seems” (Novak Fragments pdf. p.g 6 ) . She describes how a “photograph of President Kennedy slumped in his car in Dallas is a clearer photographic image in my mind than my family photographs from 1963. When I look at the Kennedy photograph , more memories from that period of my life are roused than when I see images of myself at nine” (Novak , Collected Visions pdf. p.g 3 ) . Using personal and public images the instillations are ghostly summoning up past histories and memories see here .

Past lives ( for the children of Izieu ) , 1987 here is especially poignant , a collage incorporating photographs of herself as a child , her mother and French children who were later deported from France to die in concentration camps. Novak states ” the photo was widely published and became a symbol of Barbie’s crimes against humanity . I was haunted by this smiling image of the children ; Past Lives is dedicated to their memory ” (Novak Fragments-Past Lives pdf. p.g 9 ) . Private and communal memory are visually linked as “her childhood image is merged with the pictures of murdered children, as the the picture of her own mother merges with the image of the mother who was executed” ( Hirsch , 2012 , p.g 246 ) .

Collected Visions

To expand her exploration Novak began to collect family photographs from other sources as well as those from her own family albums. Her ongoing project Collected Visions here , began in 1992 , was initially exhibited as an instillation in Houston. It now includes an interactive site set up in 1996 . It is a fantastic and useful resource with loads of suggested books/websites etc about family photography and memory and also a fabulous example of an evolving project using various forms of communication.

Visitors to the site can submit images and create stories , choosing their own photographs or tell a story about someone else’s images. Novak’s “interest in the family photograph has always centred around the fact that it can be read differently by different people and at different moments. We cannot help but understand it based on our own experience. The storytelling aspect of Collected Visions highlights this idea of multiple truths” ( Novak 2013 , p.g 197 ) .

Digital technology has lead to a huge increase in the taking of photographs which remain non-physical and only shared on- screen. A few weeks ago I was pondering about this and the lack of physical prints .Novak suggests that the shift from analogue to digital has led to a difference in how family photography is perceived “our performance for the camera has changed as we have become accustomed to so much of our social lives being photographed for instant replay” ( Novak 2013 , p.g 198 ) . Without a physical print something is absent and Novak states “in many ways Collected Visions was about looking at the photograph , as an object , and what has been lost in the switch to a digital medium. Even though I was looking at the images on a screen and not holding them I could feel the loss. Printed photographs aged , were marked and ripped , and people were crossed out in them. Digital photos have no history embedded in them like this” ( Novak 2013 , p.g 198 ) .


Post 9/11 Novak became interested in how “family photographs became public sites of mourning and portals for speaking to the dead. Around the World Trade Centre , I saw many family snapshots just taped to walls ” ( Novak 2013 , p.g 201 ) . Reverb a ” computer- based projection piece ” ( Novak 2013 , p.g 201 ) interweaves the personal photographs from Novak’s archive with documentary images from the media and internet .

Thin Skinned

This is a series of photographic double exposures. I like these allegorical images very much and find them beautiful and haunting see here

I have recently been attempting double exposures myself with my digital camera and am planning to include some in my 3rd assignment , I am still pondering whether to do all my assignment like this.

References / Bibliography

Hirsch , M. (2012) “Family Frames: Photography Narrative and Postmemory” . Harvard University Press , Cambridge (Mass)

Novak , L & Hirsch,M. (2013) “Family Projections:Lorie Novak in conversation with Marianne Hirsch ,” . In Burbridge , B & Davies , C (eds.) Issue 20 Family Politics , Photoworks Annual . Brighton England , pp. 195-203

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