My work, entitled forgetting (working title) points out the absurdity of photographic representation, and the complication that occurs when we hold onto traumatic memory.
Rather than making a futile attempt to preserve the fleeting past, I think the purpose of photography is to make the symbolic significance of the present more meaningful, even if it is particularly traumatic. I think if we could learn to embrace the randomness of human experience, then trauma wouldn’t be such a difficult thing to let go.
We photograph to feel like the past doesn’t go away, but we cannot help the fact that our memories are constantly fleeting by nature. No matter what we do, we lose our past and there is nothing we can do about it. Photography is not a reliable scource for memory; it is just a symbol. It is a stand-in for something that we are not sure has happened to us, and we react to the memory it is supposed to represent. This can be misleading because we are supposed to forget. Human beings forget.
Having evidence of something that we forgot has happened to us is absurd. Susan Sontag made a similar argument. Essentially, she postulated that though photography has increased our access to knowledge and experiences of history and faraway places (why photography is so precious sometimes), images we make may replace direct experience and limit what we know of reality.
A large part of this why I made this work is to point this out this formal contradiction, but I also to connect to my personal memories obscured by manic depressive episodes in a more valuable way than just releasing a shutter. This is where trauma enters the discussion.
Trauma is an absurdity that applies to memory loss and feelings of desperation. Merriam Webster defines trauma as “A disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” I appreciate this definition in providing explanation of my work and my experiences with mania, but the purpose of my abstraction is to exemplify the effects of trauma not trauma itself. I personally define the effects of trauma as this:
Traumatic experiences are those that are seemingly random enough that we simultaneously question their meaning as they happen to us.
Vanja Bucan is an artist also connecting the effect of trauma to memory and photography. The artist statement for her body of work currently in progress, entitled Anatomy of False Memories states:
The anatomy of false memory is a state in which we remember things that haven’t really happened. This is mostly a consequence of trauma or a strong emotional upheaval, but even without any special reason, we always visualize a particular memory in different context.
Indeed, traumatic memories remain with us through life, and change our perception of the past. This is absurd, because we should loose those memories as soon as we are naturally capable. Traumatic memory does not affect our relationship to life’s immediacy. Our perception of it does. What we never forget burdens and thwarts evolution. We become incoherent to others and our behaviors are easily inadmissible by way of their perplexity.
I use bacon to instill this perplexity into the work, and because as a food it has a sense of novelty, at least in America, that is easily relatable. In other words, trauma is as common as breakfast time, which is a point that deserves noting.
When its cooked, bacon takes a random shape as it reacts to the heat. Trauma is just as random in that we don’t plan for it to happen to us, nor can we predict our reaction to it. I also appreciate cooked bacon for its visceral quality reminiscent of physical damage.
Color in the images is meant to represent the past. I want the viewer use this symbol to think about what theirs and our collective past means when trauma interferes with it. The figurations in the color are unclear. This is because it is hard to clarify experiences we embellish or exacerbate over time. Think about when war veterans exaggerate their old war stories to keep from being emotional.
Photography is not conducive to reality, and it should not be an assumed justification of our past. Similarly, trauma skews our memory and masks our ability to remember what nature calls us to learn from. These photographs are meant to pull you away from any sense of reality, and connect you to what is most important. Leaving life in the past. They are a call for us to start forgetting.