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Tagger: Deleuze, Guattari, Rhizome, Foucault, Daguerrotypie, Hannah Arendt, Geoffry Batchen, Cartes des visites, Kodak moment,

Essays on Society and Memory by Fröydi Laszlo
Nr1: Theory and history of the family photograph

The last seven years I have been studying photography both as artistic medium and as subject of theoretical debate and as historical source. As contemporary artist it has always been important to me to relate my artistic practice to some ideas about how it affects structures and identities in the society in which it takes part. This has lead to discussions of the role of art in relation to the different art societies and institutions as well as an interest in the role of the artist and the working conditions of professional artists.

My way of analyzing the society through the operation of its institutions is loosely built on the theories of Foucault. I have read Hannah Arendt and find that I often return to how she defines the possibility for democracy in a society through an idea of the place where a democratic conversation can be held. With this she means that democracy is a practice like a conversation where as many different voices as possible should be heard. It even demands an interest from the ones taking part in the conversation to really listen to the different points of view instead of being scared of this or push to consensus.

 Even philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari writes about the multitudes of different voices (and different ways of expression) as significant for a more democratic way of developing our societies. In the “rhizome” theory (developed in the book “one thousand plateaus” from 1988) they express how a less hierarchical way of producing meaning (or truths) in society could have the benefit that the individual more clearly understood that all reproduction of knowledge or creation of meaning in a broader sense is a negotiation between the subject and the society which one is part of. In my own words this could mean that we, as subject to an idea of democracy, would best develop this idea by being individually capable of negotiating it. This is a somewhat overwhelming task if one seeks to apply it directly to the political and institutional state of our societies today. What is clear is that the possibility to develop democratic practice builds on every individuals possibility to express ideas, and the general ability in society to negotiate the production of  the “truth” and “meaning” that one is subject to.

 This is in short the argumentation that I use as a starting point in my different theoretical essays and art projects. I will try to give a short description of some of these. Text or combined works (text/visual art) can be produced from any one of these “thought clusters” and in any order. These thoughts could be published as individual essays or combined in a serial or more assembled way.

 Theory and history of the family photograph
Our societies have different institutions that produce and keep the functions of memory.
I have been specially interested in trying to understand if there is any difference between the personal (or private) memory practice and the operational systems that create “historical truth” or historical canon. I have studied the history and practice of the family photography, as this is, in our days, almost identical to an individual wish of producing tokens of private memory. The lines between private and official are becoming floating, though, and in ways of both creating individual identity and negotiating what kind of identities that can be identified and approved of.

 Interesting is that the practices we individually take part in as we create our private history really is very similar. One could almost say that the practice of family documentation is what proves the proper function of this cornerstone institution. The child that has no photographic evidence of his or her early childhood, birthday parties or holiday celebrations really has the right to wonder if that childhood was what would be considered good or normal.

 From the beginning of the photographic practice and until today the ways of keeping and structuring the photographs of family members has changed. The earliest practice was the individual, not reproducible, tin-, ferro or daguerrotypie. These small objects were enclosed in decorated, individual, small albumlike frames. You would have one or two representations or “likenesses” of your family to remember them by, not a chronological order of these. The act of remembering would even be intimate and private. The use of these early photographs would be for instance to bring faraway beloved ones closer to you, or remembering someone after death. Geoffry Batchen, professor in art history, writes about this in his book “forget me not: photography and rememberance” Princeton press 2004.

 The development of the “Cartes Des Visites” albums in the second half of the 18th century trigged another way of collecting, representing and spreading family pictures. In the private homes of the upper classes albums with a collection of well known people were presented on a special table to friends and visitors. The family would add their own pictures to the collection of artists, royalities or other prominent people. The photos were all taken in photographers studios, and the way of posing was quite strict and formalized. These photo albums more served to inscribe the social connections and potential of the family than to inspire private or nostalgic feelings in the family members. This kind of family portrait was, due to its reproduceability on paper, even a link between the new and the old society for the thousands of immigrants to the “new world“.

 The development of the Kodak camera, in 1888, made it possible for the family members themselves to choose when and what should be photographed, but the Kodak advertisers even presented a big deal of suggestions. Now it was about capturing the happy “Kodak moment” which would preferably (because of light conditions) be outdoors holiday activities. The models now often appear smiling and playful instead of grave and stiffly posing. What is collected is the happy moments and a feeling of being alive and actively doing something.

 Specially the “Carte Des Visites” albums draws a line to the present day internet practice of social forums as facebook and thus like. I think I see a tendency in the way we represent ourselves and our families that is balancing on a line between being intimate and representing socially acceptable versions of family “standard types”. This considers both the way we make portraits of ourselves and our family and which kind of family activities we choose to document. In some way or another we try to represent our family in a way that would fit our idea of the family as a well functioning unit.

 By doing so we internalize the institutional idea of the family and become part of it, which is not the same as being personal or intimate. The family photographic practice as a somewhat self disciplinary function has developed and changed through the different technologies of photography and its reproduction. That we today often choose to keep our memories at the web, a public place quite open to access, makes it even more obvious that the borders between public and private are floating.

 As an artistic reflection on this subject I have tried to write a history of the family photo-graphy from a series of subjective angles. I have chosen to write in the form of short novels and with the use of dialogues in “everyday language”. The topic is theoretical, but the way that it is expressed is not. I have read and recorded these histories, and made them accessible for listening at the website Some histories are based on true stories, others not. By present all histories are in Norwegian.

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