“Defacement is the confrontation with death and dislocation…”—Michael Taussig, Defacement
They say we die two deaths: the first is our actual passing; the second is when the last person who remembers us takes their final breath. Family photographs, vessels of memory, are integral to extending this quasi-life. They show a mother, a child, a past self, full of in-jokes and the mundane meaningful only to a select few. But divorced from their origins, these emotion-ridden images become unknowable and lost in translation, for they are intrinsically entwined with the intimate memories of someone. These images are timeless because photography can forever capture a moment—so much so that they have outlived their families and purpose, becoming orphans. As we drown in an overwhelming visual culture, what place does an old family photo have outside their original home?
In Forgetting is so long, I collect abandoned, anonymous family photographs, enlarge them past their familiar size, and paint over them. I paint to disrupt, to reimagine, to re-enliven these individuals removed from their space and time. Family photographs are sacred relics to their loved ones, but unmoored the images become hauntingly absent. Taussig states that defacing these types of objects forces a “shock into being;” suddenly we perceive them as present, revered, and piercing. By mixing painting with photography, I lengthen Roland Barthes’ “moment of death” (the photograph) into a loving act of remembrance yet also a form of purgatory. Not alive but not quite dead, each person’s newly imagined and altered portrait straddles the lines between memory, identity, and death. They are monuments to the forgotten.
All works in this series are mixed media paintings (oil-painted photo prints), mounted on panel.
A note on titling: all the paintings are technically untitled, but if there is any written information on the found photograph, that is included in parentheses. Otherwise, the bracketed wording is a general description.