Exercise 4.5 – My Mother’s Memories

Find words that have been written or spoken by someone else. You can gather these words from a variety of means – interviews, journals, archives, eavesdropping. Your subject may be a friend, stranger, alive or dead. Select your five favourite examples and create five images that do justice to the essence of those words.

 I decided to use sentences from recordings we took of my mother describing her life not long before she died. She had never been forthcoming with information – so to get her to agree to allow us to tape her was a real achievement. We ended up with about 3 hours of story over 8 tapes. The first piece of work was to put these in order and transcribe them. I tried to use various types of software, but her voice is soft, and she has a slight accent, so this was not successful. Hand transcribing it was! Much of what she said was repetitive and didn’t follow any particular order, so I went though the transcription and found 5 sentences that came at specific points of her life – or told and important piece of her story.

I then thought about ways to add images. I didn’t want to be too didactic or illustrative but wanted to show images that had some link. I was helped by the earlier research I had done on text particularly David Favrod’s work where he uses the memories of his Japanese grandparents (see David Favrod) and also Aaron Schuman’s Slant (Schuman, 2019) where he uses elliptical pictures to illustrate the words he has collected (see Aaron Schuman – Slant). I have recently read Geoffrey Batchen’s Forget Me Not (Batchen, 2006) which talks about the use of portraits as memory/remembrance aides (seeGeoffrey Batchen – Forget Me Not). Although these are not portraits they act in a similar fashion.

I was limited in the images I could take because of the present lockdown (still ongoing in Scotland) so used images that were all taken locally, which is a long was from where she lived in America and the Germany.

I have decided to present the images in 2 ways:

  • An old-fashioned photograph album of the type she owned, with the images paired each sentence – finishing with a poem by Ursula Le Guin – Leaves from So Far So Good (Le Guin, 2018)
  • Either a video or a PowerPoint with her words cut out from the tape and running at the same time as the images.

The photograph album was a fairly simple exercise.

  • I used an old album that I had acquired at an antique fair.
  • The words were printed in a script text that is fairly similar to the very elaborate writing my mother always used. I am slightly concerned about the legibility of it – so this is something I need to think about.
  • The images were all home printed.
  • The most difficult thing has been photographing the album for presentation. I have tried several techniques with limited success as the album does not want to stay open.
  • To show the images and words more clearly, I have also saved them as single images – as they would be seen in the album – but on one page instead of two.

Images of album:

-2006_untitled001001-2006_untitled004004-2006_untitled005005-2006_untitled008008-2006_untitled011011-2006_untitled012012-2006_untitled014014-2006_untitled016016

 

Back-up images (for clarity):

MotherfirstSchool daysFarminternedDraftLeavesFor the video I was helped by my son – who is far more technically minded than I am.

  • I found the specific words on the tapes and cut them out
  • They were then matched with the images
  • I thought about using a background music – a piano piece that she liked – but it made the words too unclear – although this is something that needs to be considered further.
  • The video needed an end point, so I recorded part of a different poem by Ursula Le Guin – Ancestry and added in an image of the sun though the leaves.

Both the album and the video only tell a very small portion of her life, and only use 5 of the multitude of possible audio clips (to match the 5 sentences called for in this exercise) – I think it would be worth extending, and possibly using a variety of images – some taken by me, and some from her very extensive archives. This is definitely a long-term project.

Learning points:

  • It is difficult to pick out individual sentences that make sense and tell a story from a long audio history
  • Matching images and words is a skill that needs practiced
  • Photography of an album is tricky – and I still haven’t got it quite right
  • How to use movie software
  • That movie software is widescreen – and all my images are 4:3
  • How to upload to You-tube
  • How to upload to Vimeo

 Link for videos ( You-tube and Vimeo):

 

Contact sheets of possible images:

 

References:

Batchen, G. (2006) Forget me not: photography & remembrance. New York; London: Princeton Architectural ; Hi Marketing

Le Guin, U. K. (2018) So far so good: final poems, 2014-2018. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Schuman, A. (2019) Slant. London: Mack.

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