In my Assignment 2 tutorial my tutor Wendy suggested four particular projects to look at as part of my continuing quest to pin down what aspects of memory interest me. To these I added a fifth, Bate’s Bungled Memories, largely because I came across it at around the same time as the tutorial and in my head I bracket it with the other four. Over this and related blog posts I will look at each of these projects in turn to identify points of potential inspiration and/or to assist me in refining aspects of memory that interest me most.
Bungled Memories (2008) by David Bate
This is the work not specifically referenced in my tutorial but I discovered it at about the same time and so I’m including it in this round of research. I first knew of Bate as an author, and his Photography: the Key Concepts (2009: 2016) is probably the book I’ve referred to most in my five years of study. I hadn’t realised he was also a practicing photographer until I reached the end of an essay recommended to me by my Contextual Studies tutor, namely The Memory of Photography (2010), which mentions this work as a footnote. Then I discovered it is specifically covered in the BoW course notes! So it’s definitely something I wanted to write about.
It’s not the easiest set of photographs to immediately decipher; it makes a lot more sense if you’ve read the aforementioned essay The Memory of Photography (2010), which examines photography through the prism of the Freudian theory of ‘screen memories’. From the essay:
“Freud argues that these apparently insignificant memories from childhood, which usually stay with the individual throughout their lives as representations of the lost years of childhood, are actually screens, a displacement or shield from other significant memories. […] In this way, I want to argue that a favourite photograph might also be an ’empty shell’ for the favourite story about childhood. The image is used as a space, a location for memory-traces.” (Bate 2010: 253)
Put more simply Bate suggests that what a photograph is of is not always what it is about. The surface image can be a memory trigger, in a form of parapraxis (aka ‘Freudian slip’). As Bate notes, this notion links to both Proustian and Barthesian concepts such as voluntary vs involuntary memory, and studium vs punctum (ibid: 254).
Bate took this underlying idea in an intriguing conceptual and formal direction. He staged still-life photographs of broken domestic objects, against very neat, deliberate backgrounds. The captions hint at the displaced meaning of each image (e.g. “A Political Error”; “Chance Encounter”, etc). The compositions divide the frame into quadrants of subtly differing shades. The quadrants imply an analytical, almost mathematical precision, providing a jarring juxtaposition with the foreground ‘accident’.
My interpretation of all this: what looks accidental is often very deliberate.
Discovering this work got me quite enthused, and I don’t often feel that way about research! The thing that really chimed with me is this parapraxis (slippage) idea, that what is in the photograph is not the true ‘subject’ of the photograph.
This fits really well with my ‘lost gloves’ concept – my intention is that I get across the sense that seeing a lost glove triggered an unrelated memory (in my case, memories of memory lapses, just to make things more complicated). This feels very much in the same ballpark as Bate was working when he created his series.
More specifically, I had started thinking about potentially incorporating elements of still life into a future evolution of my Body of Work – working with the idea that all memory is constructed, so why not construct photographs to illustrate this?
Seeing what Bate has done with Bungled Memories reassures me that still life is potentially well suited to such conceptual evocations of intangible subjects – although I don’t expect any still life experiments of my own to visually resemble Bate’s work.
Bate, D. (2010) The Memory of Photography. Photographies, 3(2), pp. 243-257.
Bungled Memories http://www.davidbate.net/ARTWORKS/BUNGLED-MEMORIES.html (accessed 06/06/2018)