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Holding onto the past and the present for the future: Examining the relationship between photography, mortality and remembrance Jayne Worthington

Submitted to: Hereford College of Arts In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of BA Hons Photography Validated by the University of Wales February 2013 Total word count: 8478 Edited word count: 7877

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington



List of illustrations.......................................................................................3 Introduction.................................................................................................4 Chapter one: The cultural relationship to death and mortality......................6 Chapter two: Death and Photography...........................................................11 Chapter three: The photograph as an object................................................15 Chapter four: Photography within the context of the family.........................22 Conclusion..................................................................................................30 Bibliography................................................................................................32

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


List of Illustrations Figure. 1..... Maker unknown, Post mortem photograph of a child, c. 1850 Figure. 2..... Maker unknown, Post mortem photograph of a child, c. 1850 Figure. 3..... Maker unknown, Post mortem photograph of a woman, c. 1850 Figure. 4..... Maker unknown, hair broach, c. 1830 Figure. 5..... Maker unknown, hair memorial ring, c. 1830 Figure. 6.....Makers unknown, Kate, c. 1859 Figure. 7.....Makers unknown, Portrait of an elderly man, c.1850 Figure. 8..... Makers unknown, Portrait of unidentified man in hair bracelet , c. 1850 Figure. 9..... Makers unknown, Portrait of young woman (''Lizzie'') in hair bracelet , c. 1850 Figure. 10..... Unknown photographer - family group Figure. 11..... Unknown photographer – family group Figure. 12..... Unknown photographer – family group Figure. 13..... Early Kodak advertisements for family snaps Figure. 14..... E.C. Dana, Portrait of a woman looking at a photographic portrait of a woman, c. 1880 Figure. 15..... J. Baum, Unidentified woman seated holding a daguerrotype, c. 1845

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Introduction From the first instant of photography, from its earliest infancy, I will demonstrate how it has had strong elements of, and a clear relationship with preservation, embalming, and holding onto things that do not last forever. Inherent in this is an acknowledgement that things do not remain the same, there is a death of things so to speak. Whether that is a person (mortality), a place, a scene, or a group of people being together. It is the mortality of moments that will never be the same again. The very act of photographing, whether conscious or not, demonstrates an active awareness of a mortality of time, a mortality of things, things that need to be held onto with a form of representation of them. This is served by photography in a way that no other art form does so absolutely and accessibly. Painting can be seen as more of a celebration, an expression, and isn't intended to always be literal. Photography is seen to embody direct traces of that which is photographed and it has a grounding in 'evidence'. In this sense a photograph can be likened to other 'traces' of a person, such as a foot print or a finger print. From the moment we are born, we could be said to be at the beginning of our journey to death, considered to be the ultimate end. It is therefore seen to be of great personal importance to document life, to cherish it, to document and capture those close to us, who are also on this journey. The practice of photography, particularly within a familial context serves this purpose, it provides a democratised and widely practiced means for preservation, preservation of 'life'. Yet inherently this carries with it an awareness of mortality. This lends great preciousness to life and adds more weight to acts that are seen and felt to be preserving 'life', whether they may be conscious or not. There is a need to 'embalm' those close to us through the capture of their image, elements of their life and being. We identify the image of people with the actual person, demonstrated by the way in which we treat images of those close to us, and particularly those with which we have a familial connection. Through photographs we can have an exchange with the past in the present, a connection with the past which adds to a sense of individual identity and a sense of 'togetherness', a sense of being part of something, particularly in relation to family photography. Regardless of how much we try to preserve life, and find ways to 'keep it with us', by partaking in these acts of preservation and 'embalming' we are always (perhaps subconsciously) acknowledging our own mortality, creating parts of ourselves and those we love and are close to, to leave behind and be carried forward into the future, the future where we may no be present.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


As Roland Barthes says in Camera Lucida: 'Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe'' (Barthes, 1981: 96) Throughout the following chapters I will examine our cultural relationship with death and mortality by looking at the ways in which we represent both death and life through photographic images. I will examine the specific practice of post mortem photography due to my feeling that this practice holds within it reflections to be gained on the relationship between photography, death, and specifically what the photograph as an object embodies, the 'power' it is invested with as a very particular kind of object. This object enables us to 'hold onto' the past in a very specific way. From this point I will analyse elements of the particular object-ness of photographs , how photographs are treated and related to on a personal and cultural level due to certain affordances the photograph as an object has. They are treated as containing and embodying direct traces of those represented. We treat images as if they were the person in them, they 'embody' an element of the person shown. I feel that this relates to a photograph as a physical object, enabling it to be interacted with (including physically) as part of our domestic landscape. Included within this I will be looking at photography within the context of the family, specifically the relationship between photographs of loved ones and the creation and continuation of a personal narrative and identity. Alongside what is outlined above, there is an inevitable need to examine the duality to be found between the photograph, as object , and the practice of photography, being a consistent demonstration of mortality awareness. And critically, in some sense always representing a metaphorical death. The duality lies in that without life, without being, without a need and desire for the celebration and remembrance of life visually, there would be no metaphoric death to be found in these objects and practices. So sitting quite neatly side by side, we have both a celebration of life embodied and invested with inevitable mortality.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Chapter 1 Cultural relationship to death and mortality

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The western cultural relationship to death is something that has inevitably evolved throughout time. It has evolved alongside our approach to and the creation of representations of death in our culture, as well as a gradual and consistent increase in life expectancy. Over time, particularly since the 18th century, death has gradually disappeared from view. Since the 18th century life expectancy in the west began to increase, and alongside this increase in life expectancy, representations and public 'showing' of death seemed to decrease. During the eighteenth century execution days became a public holiday, and it was widely thought that the sight of punishment would act as a deterrent to future criminals. ''The bodies were often displayed for a long while, the flesh decaying before people's eyes'' (Goldberg, 2005: 209) This steadily declined throughout the following century. During this time, many cemeteries were literally overflowing. Bodies would be tossed into common pits and be covered with little dirt, possibly only a few inches. This would inevitably lead to the odd body part or human bone making its way to the visible surface. Although a burial ground was not perhaps the most sanitary or pleasant place to spend one's time, people would frequently take part in games or even sell merchandise beside or even atop the dead. (Goldberg, 2005) It would be incorrect to assert that death was 'no big deal' at this time, but it was certainly more present in people's lives on a personal and public level. Elements of death would be on view frequently in comparison to the present day. As life expectancy was gradually lengthening, people were growing more and more attached to life, and in a sense they became more anxious about its end. There was somehow more to lose, perhaps due to there being more to be enjoyed. It is hard to say whether there is an exact and interdependent relationship between increased life expectancy and death retreating from view, only that they seem to have run alongside one another. ''History and psychology indicate representation rapidly supplanted actual experience, as a new and newly anxious audience sought novel ways to cope with its fears''. (Goldberg, 2005: 211) There is also another relationship which can be observed. During the nineteenth century violent death became more prominent in the media as news or entertainment. As the dead were perhaps becoming more beautiful and peaceful with regards to how they were represented on a more personal level, as death was gradually disappearing from public view in a real sense, ''the new reproductive media offer more and more realistic or exaggerated visions of how we die'' (Goldberg, 2005: 212)

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


As mentioned, death used to be on public display and would also be very real within the home. People would often die at home in the parlour rather than a hospital, and they would lie in state in the home, with relatives, friends and neighbours coming to pay their respects. ''in some contexts, more people observed the obligation to pay last respects than attended the funeral''. (Linkman, 2011: 18) There was a need by the living to share in death in some way, it was respectful. If a person was not able to attend the dead while they were lying in state, they may be able to view a picture of the person at this time and still, in some way share in this moment. Children were also encouraged to see the dead, even to kiss them, therefore learning from a young age the appropriate and expected way to treat the dead. ''The body then went home for washing and laying out, so if you missed the dying you still saw, and most likely, handled the dead'' (Goldberg, 2005: 209). There would appear to have been less of a sense of repulsion surrounding death and the dead. This generally doesn't happen now, particularly in the West. Rarely would a person be laid out at home with the dead body being treated and 'dressed' by the family, and rarely would you see a child at a funeral, death is not talked about very much with children, we don't necessarily want them to know about or be aware of death. In the majority of western societies, discussions surrounding mortality are both too easy and too difficult. We are presented with images of death and suffering daily through the mass media, but on a societal level ''we remain largely separate from its many meanings and implications. We teach children the 'facts of life' but hardly consider teaching the 'facts of death'.'' (Brown and Hobson, 1995: 7) Particularly during the nineteenth century, there were moves towards visual representations of the dead and dying becoming well composed, peaceful and attractive. Many photographs of the dead were to show the person moving over to the other world, the world of sleep and death in a peaceful manner. This could be particularly comforting to those people left behind. Examples of death and dying becoming more composed, peaceful and 'attractive', almost beautified can be seen in the way in which post mortem photographs were made to look, as seen in figures 1, 2 and 3, and the aims for a certain aesthetic was held by the photographers themselves. This was in keeping with an idea of the afterlife as a ''comfortable bourgeois existence''. (Goldberg, 2005: 219)

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Fig.1 Photograph of a dead child

Fig. 2 Photograph of a dead child, C19th

Fig. 3 Post mortem image of deceased woman

''Southworth and Hawes, Boston portraitists, advertised in 1846 that ''We take great pains to have miniatures of deceased persons agreeable and satisfactory, and they are often so natural as to seem, even to Artists, in a quiet sleep''. (Goldberg, 2005:219) In our western culture, we keep death on a personal level at a remove. We wish to preserve life and are future focussed, not on death being the future, but life. With regards to 'holding on' to life, Vicki Goldberg talks about the link between photography of a person and embalming, alluding to the feeling that to have a photograph of someone is the ultimate defence against complete mortality, complete death. At the core there is a form of mortality defence, even in death we are warding it off, holding onto life. ''Others adopted the enlightenment notion that immortality resided in the memories of those still here'' (Goldberg, 2005: 220). By having a photograph of someone, we are ensuring a form of afterlife.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Andre Bazin also talks of the defence against death and time in his essay 'The Ontology of the Photographic Image' when he talks of religion in ancient Egypt and the way in which the focus was on preserving and embalming the corporeal body, ensuring that its continued existence provides ''a defence against the passage of time, it satisfied a basic psychological need in man, for death is but the victory of time''. Clearly here death is a battle to be fought and through any form of embalming, whether literal, in relation to the Egyptians, or through photography as I have outlined, a weapon is added to our fight. There is an inherent impermanence in all that lives, and any form of embalming whether literal or photographic, is an acknowledgment of this fact. It is creating a sort of permanence out of impermanence. Death is the sacred counterpart to life, and acknowledgment of this fact through acts which demonstrate an awareness and engagement with them has the power to remind one to live more fully, grateful for this precious moment in the knowledge that this too shall pass.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Chapter 2 Death and Photography

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The technological advent of photography served a need of the living to confer a kind of immortality upon the dead. From the beginning, photography has had a relationship with death. What is known as post-mortem photography, photographs of the dead, has existed almost as long as photography itself. ''The practice of photographing dead relatives or friends was publicly acceptable until about 1880'' (Wells, 2010: 201) Hobson also talks about the relationship of photography and death in the book 'Intimations of Mortality', ''From its invention, photographers have sensed and sometimes demonstrably understood the closeness of the medium to the metaphysics life and death.'' (Brown and Hobson, 1995: 8) In the case of the premature death of a child, a photograph of the deceased would perhaps be one of the very few 'objects' available to remember them by. In the case of an adult or somebody older there may exist letters, objects collected or owned by that person or other means for remembrance after they had deceased. This would rarely be the case upon the death of a child, and so photography of the dead child served a very real need for remembrance, it could be an aid to the mourning process. Particularly in cases where a child had no individual grave to attend, a photograph could perhaps go some way to providing a place of mourning and remembrance. A photograph can be seen to be an un-decaying fragment of a person. They can in some sense still be with us. A photograph somehow testifies to the life of the dead person, Kenneth Anger articulates that the photograph is akin to a talismanic object that helps to ensure immortality in the next world: ''Centuries before photography there were talismans, which actually anticipated photographs, since the dyes they used on the cheap vellum produced patterns when they faded in the light. A talisman was a sticky fly-paper trying to trap a spirit – cunningly you printed on it a 'photograph' of the demon you wanted to capture. Photography is a blatant attempt to steal the soul'' (Kenneth Anger in Brown and Hobson, 1995: 9) In the case of photographs of the deceased, the motive is not necessarily to 'steal' someone's soul, but to hold onto and retain a like-ness of them, an element and direct trace of the person. There was also a desire to see and remember the person in their death. (Linkman, 2011: 14) Particularly in relation to the photographing of dead children, there was not only a focus on making the dead appear tranquil, they were often made to seem as if they were asleep. Sleep is not only peaceful, it represents the subject 'being somewhere else'. Sleep can be viewed as peaceful and safe, a link exists between both sleep and death in relation to unconsciousness. Death can be seen as the sleep one has before being spiritually or religiously awakened. Sleep is also a healing state, where the body in some sense repairs itself.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


There appears to be a need not only have an image of a person to remember them by, but also for the living to have an image of the dead person to remember them in that moment of death. Death was seen to be a sacred passing over, Photographing the dead body, treating it with respect and a sort of reverence was also linked to religious beliefs that the remains of a person ''were thought to continue a bodily existence beyond the grave.'' (Linkman, 2011: 14). Much importance was placed upon the actual body, hence it being a worthy subject of memorialisation by a camera. ''the loved body is immortalised by the mediation of a precious metal, silver (monument and luxury); to which we might add the notion that this metal, like all the metals of Alchemy, is alive''. (Barthes, 1981: 81) As Barthes writes in Camera Lucida ''Photography has something to do with resurrection'' and ''Photography offers an immediate presence in the world'' (Barthes, 1981: 82) Even in representing an absence, by the very act of seeing, and viewing the photograph we give it presence, and it is therefore existing in this present moment simply by our looking at it, being affected by it in the present, and thereby resurrecting the 'this has been' into the present moment. There is a duality that for me runs throughout most of photography when contemplated and thought about, that what is in the photograph is no longer 'here' but it is, brought here by its very recorded presence and being seen. By no longer being here, it is still able to exist in the present through photography. In America, and less so in Europe, post mortem photographs would be on display in households, often being displayed on mantelpieces and upon parlour tables. Displayed in a way similar to how we might display photographs of passed loved ones now, only of the dead as they were actually dead. This also goes further towards demonstrating perhaps a more comfortable feeling or greater connection with death, in the sense that it could even be displayed in the home, something I doubt many people would feel very comfortable with now. Death was somehow seen and treated as being more sacred. Post mortem photography still happens now , although on a much reduced scale. It still exists particularly in the case of a baby who dies prematurely or is still born. There are photographers who are trained to go into hospitals and provide this service to parents who may want a photograph by which to remember their deceased child. In some ways it goes towards actualising the existence of that child whose life has been cut so short. There is a form of evidence that goes beyond simply being held in one's memory. As one might expect, there are still practical considerations afforded to this process, such as photographing in black and white, as well as an aim to photograph the child, often with its parents, as if it were still alive, sleeping or being cradled by the parents. This is a particularly sensitive issue and is often a very private matter for those involved.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The purpose here is not to share in death, something so painful. Sharing in death may have previously been the case with post mortem photography, but the role it serves here is to have something to remember the deceased by, at least one photograph. ''a relic of the body of the beloved person'' (di Bello, 2007: 85) Within this chapter I have looked at the literal relationship between death and photography. I will now move on to examine the photograph as an object, what it is invested with and how it is treated. The object relates to the link between photographic representations embodying a trace of the referent.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Chapter 3 Photograph as object

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The photograph as an object is very particular. Specifically, photographs of people, loved ones and family members have affordances that other photographs may not. Size is very important in relation to the way in which the object may be interacted with. In the case of cartes de visites and the majority of family photographs people own, they are small enough to hold in ones hand. The inventor of cartes de visites (1854) Andre Adolphe Disderi wrote 'Such portraits are to be found in everybody's hands'. You can handle these objects easily and individually, you can touch them, feel the texture. The family snap has a tactile materiality. ''Having a still picture in hand predicates a kind of control over it, which becomes yet more meaningful when the picture is a photograph, with its credible traces of reality'' . We can actually hold it in our hands, touch it, feel its weight or lack of. On top of this, it is likely in the case of older photographs that the print we hold was printed directly from the negative, a continuation of the journey of light from the original referent. This would be different were the image a copy of a copy, the direct relationship becomes less so. (Goldberg, 2005: 222) It can also be seen as a relatively fragile object, easily torn, damaged by moisture, bent and mistreated easily. This may also add to a sense of preciousness to the object itself. ''A photograph is a three-dimensional thing, not only a two-dimensional image. As such, photographs exist materially in the world, as chemical deposits on paper (or, we might add, as electrical signals in an image sensor), as images mounted on a multitude of different sized, shaped, coloured and decorated cards, as subject to additions to their surface or as drawing their meanings from presentational forms such as frames and albums. Photographs are both images and physical objects that exist in time and space.'' (Edwards and Hart 2004,1) Photographs of a person and family members may on one hand be simply paper with a picture on the surface, but they become so much more due to what the photograph is felt to embody and what is done with it. As well as what the image shows, the object can be modified and extended by acts such as writing a date or a caption on the back, placing it in a frame, arranging it in an album. The photograph does not always need to stay in its expected paper form either, it is now relatively easy for anyone to print a photograph onto a mug, calender, tshirt, fridge magnet or a bag. This then extends the photograph beyond simply being looked at, but being engaged in daily practical life. ''As an object, a photo is always more than just its image''. (Rose, 2010:17)

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The way in which we use and display family photographs within the domestic space of the home further enables them to be physically interacted with and become integrated into our daily lives. For example a photograph displayed on a window sill will be seen whenever dusting the sill or drawing the curtains. Photographs displayed on a fridge will be seen whenever one is in the kitchen or opening the fridge, displayed on a mantel piece they will be seen when tending to the fire, and so on. In some way we can include those in the photograph in to parts of daily life.

Fig. 4 Maker unknown, hair broach, c. 1830

Fig. 5 Hair in a ring, c.1830

Previously, as does also still happen, small photographs would be placed in jewellery such as a locket to be worn around one's neck or set into a bracelet. During the 19 th century there was also a trend for creating memorial jewellery from intricately weaving together the hair of a person, bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings were all made. Examples of this can be seen in figures 4 and 5. Upon the advent of photography, small photographs set into jewellery served the same purpose and a combination between the two crafts was created as can be seen in figures 8 and 9 on the following page. One was able to carry the subject with them in their daily lives, close to their body. One could carry an essence of someone here with them when that person had deceased. Not only would it be carrying the trace a person through their image, it would involve something of their body, something which grew in the persons lifetime while they were alive. Locks of hair would also be included in lockets and small daguerrotype cases, as can be seen in figures 6 and 7. This isn't the only way a photograph is carried with a person, some people still carry photographs in a wallet or purse.

Fig. 6 Makers unknown, Kate, c.1859

Fig. 7 Portrait of elderly man, c. 1850

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Fig. 8 Maker unknown, Portrait of unidentified man in hair bracelet, c. 1850

Fig. 9 Maker unknown, Portrait of young woman (''Lizzie'') in hair bracelet, c. 1850

The things that are done with the object that is a family photograph adhere to and reinforce certain expectations of what is traditionally done with them and what should be done with them. Certain poignant photographs are treated as precious objects, by placing them in frames or mounting in an album.There are conventions as to how they should be treated and these objects matter in the context of social practices. Sharing personal photographs happens on an unprecedented scale within the family, especially when a new baby is born within the family, school photographs are also readily shared as often multiple copies are made. There is a strong element of sharing photographs with family members who may live far away, in other countries, who aren't 'part' of a families life. Family photographs are used to provide a sense of inclusion.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Sending photographs to family members who aren't physically present enables a sense of inclusion ''they were so far away they couldn't be there, so we email photographs fairly regularly...they're missing out on his (their grandsons's) growing up'' (Rose, 2010: 36). Gillian Rose undertook many interviews with women regarding their relationship to their family photographs, how they treat them and how they feel about them. She was examining what she calls the practice of family photography. Through the selected sharing and considered distribution of these 'objects', familial relationships are reinforced in the way they are distributed, as well as the way in which we display them within the domestic landscape, in our homes, and the way they might be arranged within an album. By sharing these objects we are able to elicit a sense of inclusion for those not present at the time, as was also talked about in chapter 1, in relation to people being able to share in the moment of death of a person. In contrast, the way in which we treat and share family photographs now is to enable those not present to share in life. Photography is providing a solution to absence, by being a vehicle for presence. Another of Rose's interviewees remarked on the representation of familial relationships in the the way she physically displayed photographs in her home, displaying particular family members photographs apart from one another, and displaying the image of a deceased mother next to the newborn child she had never met to provide some sense of inclusion. Again demonstrating presence and absence alongside one another. The forms in which family photographs are displayed and distributed fulfil what could be seen as a primary function in family life: generating common and shared experiences, and the confirmation of togetherness and the family as a specific group. (Bourdieu, 1965/1990: 38; Chambers, 1999: 89) Not only is there the togetherness with regards to what is photographed, as illustrated in figures 10 and 11, this is extended into the way in which one uses and distributes images of one's family.

Fig. 11. Family group

Fig. 12. Family group

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Fig. 10. Unknown photographer, family group having a picnic

The way a parent might look at photographs of the family with their children reinforces the idea that we are given from a very early age, that a photograph is invested with what it represents, particularly with representations of people, it is who it represents. In the way of keeping things direct and easy to understand for a small child, a photograph of a person is referred to, for example as 'this is mummy', rather than 'this is a photograph of mummy'. Our first look at photographs in this way teaches us on some level that photographs contain a very real trace of the person depicted, and therefore we are beginning to equate a person with their image. Something else afforded to the object which is the family photograph, which I feel relates to the above assertion is that they are rarely thrown away or deleted. Usually the question of whether Gillian Rose's interviewees had ever thrown a photograph away was met with horror ''I can't, 'never', 'I couldn't bear to'. ''Given their sense that photos are somehow the material trace of the person they show, this horror is not perhaps surprising. Throwing away a photograph would be like throwing away (part of) the child, as Paula said explicitly''. (Rose, 2010: 37) This can be applied to any photograph of a loved one or relative.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


With digital photography there is a slight variation. A number of Rose's interviewees who had digital cameras expressed that the advantage of digital is that you can delete images easily. This was said in relation to keeping the best shot. Rose found that the issue of disposability with regards to digital images isn't a simple difference between digital and analogue. It would seem to me that the issue of digital deleting, where disposal is done in camera or on a computer, is different to the way the photograph would be treated once it became a physical, tangible object. Before one can hold the photograph it is afforded different treatment. Deleting still symbolises something when done in camera, but this is not the same as physically disposing of the object. ''The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who is here; the duration of transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze:'' (Barthes, 1981: 80) The above is even more pertinent when the photograph is an object, rather than a projection on a screen. The 'gaze' of the person who has taken the photograph is also a gaze later directed or emanated from a family member looking at the photograph, as the gaze of the subject is in a sense not only looking out to the person with the camera, but also out to the future, towards a later member of that family. An acknowledgement of their existence will be held and seen in this moment, for the future. This gaze can be paralleled with the journey of light mentioned by Susan Sontag earlier in this paper, the gaze is carried through light from the reflection from the subject, into the camera, landing on the light reactive surface of film or digital sensor and translated or printed into being as an object. As I have demonstrated in this chapter, there are certain affordances which influence the way one treats a photograph, particularly that of a person included in one's family group. I have also discussed elements which make a photograph a particular type of object and the way in which we can interact with it. One can physically and metaphorically hold onto a person, and an element of their being though photographs. It is material 'proof' of existence and a persons life. One of the most widely and physically interacted with types of photography is that of the family, and this is also an area of photography that has a relationship with death and remembrance. I will now move on to discuss photography within the context of the family.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Chapter 4 Photography in the context of the Family

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The photograph as an object, as well as the various rituals that go alongside domestic photography is integrated into family life with ease. Family photographs are one of the most familiar sorts of images and can be seen as compressed performances of family life. The familial gaze “situates human subjects in the ideology, the mythology, of the family as institution and projects a screen of familial myths between the camera and the subject” (Hirsch, 1997: 10-2). The camera and photographs are a part of family life, they are expected to be. It is unusual to find a western family who doesn't have or has never taken any photographs within the context of family life. “ Memorialising the achievements of individuals considered as members of families (as well as of other groups) is the earliest popular use of photography” . (Sontag . 1977: 8) Family photographs generally adhere to set pieces and conventions. Amongst these set pieces are weddings, births, christenings, birthdays, and family holidays. There is a strong sense that if these moments aren't recorded photographically, they might somehow be lost to time, there is a feeling of negligence or loss if these events aren't photographed, loosing something you never really had in the first place. What, in essence, would really be lost if it wasn't photographed? We still have a memory, an ability to 'record' things in our mind, so why is having a photograph of an event seen to be so important? An answer can be found in the writing of Susan Sontag: “ After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never have otherwise enjoyed” (Sontag, 1977: 11) As Roland Barthes articulates: ''The type of consciousness the photograph involves is truly unprecedented, since it establishes not a consciousness of the being there of the thing (which any copy could provide) but an awareness of its having-been-there. What we have is a new space-time category: spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority, the photograph being an illogical conjunction between the here-now and the there-then''. Within this, there is embodied the awareness that the future won't physically include these people, an awareness of mortality brought closer to the surface by taking, having and looking at photographs.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The photograph and photography has been integrated into, and has become part of our cultural expectation of family life. Before the advent of the Kodak Box Brownie camera, which enabled families and individuals to take photographs within daily life, there were many studio portraitists who gave the opportunity to own a photograph of oneself or loved ones relatively cheaply. Copies could be made with relative ease and distributed with family members or friends, and perhaps be arranged into a photo album. This was perhaps the beginning of the formation of a visual family identity and a form of narrative was on its way to being created through the use of photographs. The narrative was perhaps somewhat limited at this stage, due to the visual characteristics of the photographs taken. The photographs would mainly confer that a person existed, showing only their image, not necessarily any part of their daily life. The whole process was very formal, and no matter what social class background one might be from, it was an occasion to present ones best self, more often than not in best sunday clothes. Looking at these early formalities, it is evident that the formality itself is the beginning of a form of an editing process, editing how ones life is seen through photographs, choosing which parts to record and preserve, whilst maintaining a strong sense of control over the way in which one is preserved, which parts of identity and self are to be recorded and remembered photographically. With early portraits broadly being confined to the studio already presenting a formality of occasion, perhaps formality of occasion was carried forward into the advent of having ones own camera to decide on other times and types of occasion to record. Taking a photograph would be an occasion in and of itself. ''The domestic camera was confirmed as a ritualised element in joint celebrations'' (Wells, 2010:148)

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Early Kodak adverts would explicitly suggest the sorts of events and 'Kodak moments' to photograph. This can clearly be seen in their early adverts and has a strong relationship with both a celebration of family life as well as the need to 'hold onto' moments and events that occur within domestic family life.

Fig.13. A selection of early advertisements for Kodak

There is an inevitable tinge of idealisation that runs through much of family photography, inevitable due to the fact that one would not purposefully record or present the 'bad' bits of life in an act (taking photographs in the context of the family) that is initiated from a place of fondness, a sense of some celebration, a preciousness coupled with a need to 'hold on' which is demonstrated with the act of recording and 'embalming'. Not only has idealisation run throughout the majority of family photographs, since the camera itself became a part of family life, liberated from the studio into domestic life, validation of experience, demonstrations of togetherness and projections of a unit and individual identity have become strong characteristics within family photography, if not some of the key characteristics. Togetherness and the identity of a family unit created through photography ensures a continuation of identity beyond death, and can provide a sense of belonging for those left behind. A life lived that was worth holding on to.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Family photography could be critically argued to be the ultimate demonstration of mortality awareness. Family life is often the first place we learn that people are not here forever. We may be aware of the death of a relative or have the opportunity to look through a family album where we might recognise that there are people we have never met in person due to them no longer being alive. Alongside the awareness of mortality that comes through the viewing of and introduction to family photographs and albums, there is an awareness of life. Not only that life was happening in front of the lens of the camera, but that there was also life before we came along, we can view almost the very moment where we might fit into the story of our family life. There will be pictures that don't include us, perhaps followed by images of our pregnant mother, and then the typical proliferation of multiple new born shots of the recent arrival, ourself, with parents, family and an array of visitors welcoming us into the world. Our arrival is now etched into the visual family story, beyond the minds and memories of those who were present in the moments, it now exists beyond that moment and in many ways can be reliably taken forward into the future, a small building block in a wall creating an individual sense of identity and belonging. “the image world that bids to outlast us all” (Sontag, 1977: 11) Ones lineage is evident in a family album, anchoring us to a group of people who are family. Barthes talks about the connection between lineage and the comfort of an identity within a unit of family, the security of having a vehicle to viewing this (family photographs, perhaps displayed in an album). There is also another side to this comfort, there is sadness in knowing what has been is no more. ''Lineage reveals an identity stronger, more interesting than legal status – more reassuring as well, for the thought of origins soothes us, whereas that of the future disturbs us, agonises us; but this discovery disappoints us because even while it asserts permanence, it bares the mysterious difference of beings issuing from one and the same family: '' (Barthes, 1981: 105) The awareness of a future that is unknown is unsettling to many, there is comfort in viewing one's familial origins. One's origins will always be there but the people who are ones origins are not here in person. The impermanence is mortality itself. Here lies the duality I speak of in my introduction, the duality of life and death sitting alongside one another. Hobson puts this rather poetically when he says '' Somewhere in our deepest memories must lie the unsung knowledge of our birth, and somewhere in each cell is the imprint of our death.''

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


There is a duality in observing a celebration of life worthy of being recorded, and in a way embalmed, whilst simultaneously observing a metaphorical death of that moment, acknowledgement that it no longer exists. The celebration of life embodied and invested with inevitable mortality and a form of immortality in the same breath, as Sontag says: ''All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.'' (Sontag, 1977: 15) Here Sontag is also alluding to a sense of togetherness gained by taking a photograph of another. Togetherness is not something solely gained though the way we might display and use photographs within domestic life, the very act of taking them is also an extension of togetherness. An awareness of the 'relentless melt' of time is clearly demonstrated in early studio portraits in the context of the family or of a family member. The dead and the living side by side looking out into the future. As we can see in figures 14 and 15, this is illustrated by the act of holding a photograph or daguerrotype of a loved one, either pensively studying it, showing it to us, the viewer or simply holding a daguerrotype case without necessarily showing us the picture inside. This demonstrates that there is a virtual presence of a person absent, so that we are seeing life and death, presence and absence side by side. This virtual presence is further compounded by the closed case, we don't need to know who the person is in the photograph enclosed, only that they are there and are being physically connected to the present moment of the photograph being taken.

Fig. 14 E.C. Dana, Portrait of a woman looking at a

Fig. 15 J. Baum, Unidentified woman seated,

photographic portrait of a woman, c. 1880

holding a daguerrotype, c. 1845

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


This trend presents a direct link that people had with photography and remembrance. Photographs were presented as being of a physical act of remembrance, not only for the photograph being taken at that moment but also for the subject actually being in a state of remembrance when the photograph is being taken. Not only is this process going some way to extending the present moment into the past, it is also implying that this moment is destined for the future, to be considered by someone else in perhaps the same way, particularly and most probably by a future family member. And alongside all of that, the subject of the photographs is also carrying other family members with them into the present and the future. This parallels the way we also take photograph albums 'into the future', and demonstrates an awareness of mortality. Family photographs are ultimately idealized messages for the future, extending an existence beyond our death, and perpetuating myths of the past to serve a need for those viewing them in the present and the future. By myth, I mean that a photograph can never, in essence tell the whole story, or even the same story to different people. The myth I am speaking of is the one that illustrates the cultural ideal of the family unit and it's 'life'. However flawed this may seem, it is a need that will continue for as long as we view our pasts, elements of identity and belonging by contemplating photographs of it. What the photographs present may not be 'real' but we make it real by drawing conclusions and allowing it to affect how we might feel about the past, as well as allowing it to influence our sense of identity. As Barthes articulates, associating one's identity and being with a photograph does have its flaws: '' What I want, in short, is that my (mobile) image, buffeted among a thousand shifting photographs, altering with situation and age, should always coincide with my (profound) ''self''; but it is the contrary that must be said: ''myself'' never coincides with my image; for it is the image that is heavy, motionless, stubborn (which is why society sustains it), and ''myself'' which is light, divided, dispersed;'' (Barthes, 1981: 12) There is a duality, of times, past, present and future, an acknowledgement of a future where we are not here in physical form. There is a need to be present in the future in some form, to create a trace of ourselves to somehow ensure we don't just fade away into memories, a need to create purposeful material elements of ourselves that can remain in the form of a photograph or trace. We are ensuring part of our identity moves forward beyond ourselves and beyond our death. A large part of this is the way we identify the object/image with the person, it is a direct trace of being. Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Photographs of a person taken during a persons lifetime, of them really living will often play a significant role in bereavement following the death of that person. There is something physical we can still hold onto in their absence. There is a need to remember a person through their image. The dead are able to live on through the living, there is a kind of immortality created through one's image, rendered through light into objective being. As I have looked at throughout this chapter, family photography has a very tangible relationship to death and serves very real personal needs when it comes to remembrance and reflections on mortality.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington



Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


The intent of this paper has been primarily to examine the relationship between death and photography. This has been carried out methodically throughout the chapters, by first looking at the direct and literal relationship between them, and following on to examine the metaphorical relationship. I have clearly outlined and discussed throughout this paper the strong and clear relationship between photography and awarenesses surrounding mortality, particularly within the realm of 'family' photography, as well as the metaphorical death that is every photograph. The relationship between death and photography is a clear one on varying levels. In particular I have looked into family photography, and argue that this holds within it consistent, if unconscious, demonstrations of mortality awareness. There is need to hold and create a photographic material trace of ourselves or family members. I feel that this is in acknowledgement of a need to create traces of ourselves, evidence of our existence and that of loved ones that are able move beyond our death. The photographic object confers a form of immortality on being, created within an awareness of mortality. Family photography is largely about the celebration of life, but as I have demonstrated in this paper, every photograph holds within it a metaphorical death and the way in which one treats family photographs clearly relates to ideas around mortality, remembrance and the need to hold on to things: moments, traces of people, a persons image as well as ideas of familial togetherness. When something 'dies' space is allowed or created for something to grow, and when something dies metaphorically as in photography, the death of a moment, of a slice of time, perhaps it isn't death at all but a transience, a movement through time and space towards something or somewhere new. I do have to acknowledge at this point that there is perhaps a need within this paper to have looked at current trends within 'life' and family photography. More than ever there is a proliferation for photographing the moment for the here and now. Not necessarily to make memories, but for instant publishing to platforms to share immediately. These same photographs may not be arranged in an album or be treated with the varying degrees of preciousness that I have outlined in this paper. Purpose of taking photographs of one's life is perhaps different now for younger generations, while for older generations it may not have changed very much. The above would be an interesting avenue of research to undertake were I to take this further, but is questionable as to whether it is appropriate for my argument.

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Bilbliography BARTHES, R. 1981. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage BATCHEN, G. 2004. Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance. New York: Princeton Architectural Press BAZIN, A. 1960.The Ontology of the Photographic Image. Film Quarterly, Vol.13, No. 4, pp.4-9 University of California Press BOURDIEU, P. 1965/1990. Photography: A Middle Brow Art. London: Polity Press di BELLO, P. 2007. Women's Albums and Photography in Victorian England: Ladies, Mothers

and Flirts. London: Ashgate BROWN, S and HOBSON, S (eds). 1995. Intimations of Mortality. Peterborough: Balding and Mansell CHAMBERS, E. 1999. 'D-Max: An Introduction' in Run Through the Jungle, Annotations 5. London: INIVA Edwards, E and Hart, J. 2004. Introduction: photographs as objects. In E. Edwards and J. Hart (eds), Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images. London: Routledge GOLDBERG, V. 2005. Light Matters: Writings on Photography. New York: Aperture Linkman, A. 2012. Photography and Death. London: Reaktion Books Ltd WELLS, L. 2009. Photography: A Critical Introduction. Oxon: Routledge ROSE, G. 2010. Doing Family Photography: The Domestic, The Public and The Politics of

Sentiment. Surrey: Ashgate HIRSCH, M. 1997. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Post Memory. Harvard SONTAG, S. 1977. On Photography. London: Penguin

Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington



Holding on to the Past and the Present for the Future – Jayne Worthington


Jayne Worthington dissertation  

Holding onto the past and the present for the future: Examining the relationship between photography, mortality and remembrance

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