This research thesis takes the form of a longitudinal fieldwork study (2009–16) to question what is ‘fugitive’ from the family photographic archive. The research borrows the term from Roland Barthes: ‘the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony’.1 The research project relates this idea to what goes missing from family albums and posits that discarded materials from family albums, as found in flea markets, can constitute the ‘fugitive memories’ of family life. As a result, collecting these materials can be used to construct new ‘archives’, named in this project as the Fugitive Testimonies Archive. This archive acts as a repository for examining fugitive memories. The ‘sample’ of discarded photographs has been gathered in the practical fieldwork at a regional flea market, located in the southwest of England (specifically at the Royal Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet, Somerset) from 2009 to 2016.
The fieldwork method was developed in two phases. The first is collecting and mapping the found materials in fieldwork notebooks (organised as a photoarchive) to form a timeline and survey of encounters, and the annotation of photographs and materials with critical notes on the transactions and encounters. All these notes give extra insight into the flea market as a site of enquiry and fugitive discourse. This work is inspired by the historical traditions of such methods as bricolage (Claude Lévi-Strauss) and objective chance (e.g. in André Breton and Surrealism).2 Examples of contemporary artists also drawing on these tactics and methods of practice are Tacita Dean and Taryn Simon.3 Phase two of the project represents the critical intervention of reconfiguring the ‘outtakes’ curated (by me) from selected material prints in the Fugitive Testimonies Archive. The subsequent grouping of these ‘outtakes’ constructs the conceptual assemblages, to reveal and expose from this discarded material what has been censored by families. By presenting and rereading these found discarded photographs the thesis produces new perspectives on family album photography, by engaging in theoretical discussion of the direct relationships between personal and social memory, and between personal and family identity vested in what is discarded from the family photographic archive.
In a supplementary argument, the thesis argues that the analogue era of photography is what enabled and created - through its material form - the very possibility of this fugitive discarding of ‘family material’. The potential for new scholarship about the re-configuration of the photograph within this bricolage mode is in direct relation to the material process of analogue photography. The fugitive testimonies of family held on analogue paper substrates offer specific visual image memories whose insistent capture are likely to evaporate, deteriorate, change, fade or disappear.
In consequence, the contribution of this research to new knowledge concerns the importance of this documentation of private life, a documentation, which has a disruptive urgency through questioning and investigating affective visual narratives of ‘the family’ in fugitive prints. Equally significant for this research are the intricate forms of the photographic records, the unconscious escapes from contracts of compatibility (the fugitive stories of family) to inform the tactics of a practice.
|Keywords||memory, identity, archive, family, material found photograph, fugitive testimony, affect|