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Bystander

Kerry Simmons

Photographer Kerry Simmons revisits her Essex roots and turns her lens onto her estranged family. A childhood treasure lost sparks a journey from digital to analogue in an attempt to re-establish links with the past. Questioning the role photography has played in the archiving of identity and memory; she has taken a century old portrait and traced the linage to the present day. Inviting Isabella Gom’s living female relatives to stand for a studio portrait and asking them the question ‘What (if anything) will this image say about you a century from now?’ Picture faces! Oh what volumes of unwritten life ye hold M.C. Duncan Since its introduction, photography has played a pivotal role in how we perceive and interact with the world. The way in which we preserve our most precious memories is almost entirely the domain of the photographic image. Whether these memories are truly our own or a powerful mix of family tales and the image itself, is often debated. With the rise in social media and the ubiquitous use of smart phones, photography has yet again adapted itself to move with the times and remained a key tool used to present ourselves to the world. The importance of personal photography has often been overlooked. Pushed to the side and regarded as amateurish, its ordinary subject matter deemed not worthy of preservation. Even when used as a historical document it is notoriously difficult to gain an objective context from. Regarding these images in such a way is to cut out our own social history and ignores the wealth of viewpoints that offer an alternative to the homogenised imagery imposed through media and advertising. The photographic portrait, taken out of context with no explanation other than itself can only offer ‘proof of existence’ (Berger 1995); the subject was once alive and in front of the lens, nothing more than that. To the bystander this could be enough. However, the context of interest here is the emotional one, the meaning of the image itself is the relationship between the subject and the viewer. Old portraits in a family album with no clue written on the back as to whom these faces were, are a frustrating yet tantalising mystery. Singularly, those images may not stand up; many may not be well presented or taken with the eye of a ‘professional’. But take them as a whole and they form an important collective history. Only those people who are party to the social scene the images represent can bear witness to the significance of the albums contents. As a group they can enrich them with anecdotes and conversation and testify to the true ‘meaning’ of the images; family scandals, joyful moments and the knowledge that the faces presented to the world belies the sometimes turbulent lives that have been lead. Over time the emotional meaning is lost and replaced with second hand stories handed down through generations. The images are used in different ways; we look for commonalities in our skin pallor, the strength of our jaw line or the curls of our hair. We look for clues to our history, who these people were and how do they relate to us now. Tales of cockle sheds, moneylenders, women born at sea and Jewish immigrants from Spain excite us with the possibility of an exotic lineage. Isabelle Gomm (born and raised in Peckham) was my great great grandmother, we know nothing about her aside from who she was married to and how many children she had. All we have are the images preserved in our photo albums and the stories that are handed through the family with varying amounts of accuracy. Without these images, she would be forgotten and without someone to pass down the information (a written note on the back or a story), all the picture faces will lose their meaning and all the volumes of unwritten life is lost. All the images featured in this exhibition were taken on a 1950’s Ziess Ikonta 6x9 format camera. They have been hand printed on archival quality fibre based paper and mounted with archival quality board; these photos should last for around 150 years or longer if looked after well. The frames were sourced from flea markets, cleaned and fixed up before being given a new life. All props used for this show have sentimental value and have been donated by friends and family and as such are irreplaceable. Please keep this in mind when handling the photo album, you are welcome to look through it but please do not remove it from its position. For sales enquiries please contact: info@stourspace.co.uk / +44 (0)208 9857827


Bystander Exhibition - Kerry Simmons info