Uncanny Memories

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On the surface, this is a relatively ‘normal’ but uncanny photograph. A man sits, with a formal repose while an awkward layering of a photograph of his wife and child sits in the top right corner. the stern expression, impersonal studio setting and the weirdness of having another photograph layered immediately above another seem odd. The studio background and separation of the two photographs suggests the subjects of photograph are perhaps financially comfortable but not wealthy and the style is reminiscent of portrait photography, the man takes centre stage, so perhaps this photograph tells us more about masculinity and dominance?

However, for me, this photograph is doubly unsettling. The man is my great-granddad and the other photograph his dead first wife and child.

This photograph takes on an added symbolism for myself- the uncanniness is not solely from the awkward framing of the photograph itself but from the fact that the deaths of the two people in the right hand corner facilitated my own birth. The tales of this haphazard composition photograph ( are no other photographs of the whole family, as far as I know)are for me both synonymous with life and death, the mother and child a ghostly reminder of my own almost non-existence, as Kafka asserts: ‘Pictures are wonderful, pictures are indispensable, but they are torture as well’, a phrase which suggests that individual photographs have a unique presence and can become uniquely and unsettling symbolic. Barthes also notes  a similar ambiguous relationship whilst reflecting on his own lineage, family photographs become ‘etherealised’, may that be for better or worse.

I am strangely part of this photograph, a living example of von Amelunxen’s ‘homo-photographus’

 

 

Barthes, Roland, ‚Camera Lucida‘, (Vintage, 1993,103)

Kafka in Gerhard Richter, ‘Unsettling Photography’, (1978, p.202)

von Amelunxen, Hubertus ,‘Unsettling Photography‘(1978)

 

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