Material Memories

By Marius Kwint; Christopher Breward et al. | Go to book overview

eleven
Photographs as Objects
of Memory
Elizabeth Edwards

When Roland Barthes, eaten by ontological desire, eventually found the photograph of his mother which transmitted, for him, the essence of that unique being, what he first describes is an object:

The photograph was very old, the corners were blunted from having been pasted into an album, the sepia print had faded, and the picture just managed to show two children standing together at the end of a little wooden bridge in a glassed-in conservatory, what was called a Winter Garden in those days.1

Photographs are perhaps the most ubiquitous and insistent focus of nineteenth- and twentieth-century memory. The photograph infuses almost all levels of memory, even those of which it is not directly part. It constitutes a meta-value of memory construction, its tentacles spread out, blurring and constructing memory in its own insistent image. My focus here is very precisely on the photograph and its presentational forms as material culture, drawing on writing from photography on one hand and the anthropology of material culture on the other. None of the elements I discuss is of itself very original, nor can one, in an essay of this length, discuss any one of them in detail, however I hope through a massing effect to suggest that the relationship between photograph and memory and the way in which it obtains its privileged position as a conduit of memory is refracted through the photograph's materiality.

____________________
1
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard (London, 1984 [1980]), 67.

-221-

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