Something someone says sparks a memory. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I can feel it balanced on the edge of my consciousness. Sometimes it’s a sound, or a smell, transporting me to a place I’ve long forgotten. Whatever the trigger, something starts us down a path to further understand or relive an experience-a memory.
“As a recorder, the brain does a notoriously wretched job.” (1) Although many believe that the brain’s visual process works much like a camera, if given the choice most of us will trust a photograph over someone else’s recollection of an event. Although images capture ‘fact’ quite literally, alone they are void of the nuances and context necessary to serve as a time-machine as powerful as the other senses. And yet, photographs are memory.
For the four photographers in this exhibition-Angie Buckley, Pedro Isztin, Cyrus Karimipour, and Paula Luttringer-memory is fuel. Through uniquely personal approaches, each one has created imagery that deals with powerful aspects of remembrance.
In the series 'Transformation', Pedro Isztin’s color portraits metaphorically heal the adult, the child within the photo has become. The third part of a larger series called 'Destino (Destiny)', it resonates for its autobiographical quality-part recalling, part examining, and part surrendering. Taken during a challenging time in his life, for Isztin this series fulfilled the need to re-examine his past. With scrutiny, he was able to trace a path that integrated formative childhood memories into the person he is today.
In preparation for the photo sessions, he asked family and friends to each pick a childhood photo that meant something to them. His subjects then reflected on what the images evoked, and shared those memories with Isztin. Through what became a therapeutic process for both, Isztin intuitively determined where the source of unresolved feelings or emotional pain lived, and that is where the childhood photo was placed.
With the vein-like symbolism of the red tape, the past and present become intertwined and their healing process became his. “You can’t move forward until you re-examine your past. It's how people transform from childhood to adulthood. You need to confront it, decide what to let go of, in order to keep going.” (2)
With a different approach to recollection, Angie Buckley explores identity and metamorphosis of family histories as they are passed down from family members; each story recalled a bit differently depending on who was asked.
Throughout Buckley’s childhood, little reference was made to her mother’s Thai culture. In examining her own past, she discovers that her father’s Appalachian family forbade her mother from speaking her native tongue to the children. Possibly, it is this unspoken severing of culture that later lead her on a quest to explore her identity through art.
Buckley grew up around stories-recollections about everything from the Vietnam War and how her parents met, to elaborate stories told by her grandfather, a Baptist preacher-but few were about the part of her that is Thai. It wasn’t until many years later that she began piecing together her mother’s history, after finding old photographs in her mother’s closet.
Buckley began to use the photos she found to reconstruct her understanding of her family’s past, drawing from all the different variations she had heard. In the image titled distance, she literally holds her grandfather at arms length to better examine this man who helped shape her father (good, bad, or indifferent) and subsequently, who she is.
In other images, ghostly voids are created by removing the person and leaving their silhouette outline, implying the void of her cultural history as the present looks into the past, and vice versa. The hazy distortion of Buckley’s pinhole images reaffirms the transitional nature of collective memories and what she calls the histories of the displaced.
According to Buckley, “Subsequent generations, such as my own, find themselves in-between imagination and the real world, in order to pull the pieces together to build understanding of oneself and the culture around them.” (3) By creating multiples of the figures in the original photographs, she gives them a second chance, as if to speak to her again-and us.
For many, memories are more like dreams than actual recollections. Fading in and out, rearranging themselves without regard to logic or feelings-like holding water in one’s hands, the details slip away upon awaking. Always wishing good dreams wouldn’t end, while inevitably nightmares remain uncomfortably vivid.
While most of us feel as if we are at the mercy of our dreams and memories, Cyrus Karimipour takes control and becomes their master. With a dream-like quality to his imagery, he makes a conscious choice on how he wishes to remember an experience, which no doubt must provide a feeling of freedom. With an almost clinical approach based on how the brain works, he reminds us that divergent truths aren’t necessarily wrong: “Memories are not static ... they change a small amount each time we remember them, contaminated by each and every new experience we have.” (4)
Karimipour purposefully speeds up that process of change. No longer constrained by the stress of searching for the ultimate truth of a past experience, his invented memories merge the “real” of the photographic image with the imaginary. He literally deconstructs his film negatives and rearranges the fragments to create new narratives, which better match his feelings about a particular encounter or event.
Followed is an image filled with tension. Karimipour heightens the title’s implication by removing the background and replacing it with an effect of being underwater, as if his subjects are navigating a thermocline wake. One can't tell if it’s a protector or a predator doing the following-but this ambiguity lends itself to how he chooses to adapt to the flexible nature of memory.
Memories can also evoke fear, resurfacing after experiences we would rather not relive. Over a decade after being abducted and tortured, Paula Luttringer returned to Argentina, the land she never wanted to set foot upon again. There, she took up the task of learning photography, which has given her a gift of expressing what before she could not. It has also given other captured women a chance to talk and heal, along with the hope that a spoken history is one that does not repeat itself.
The images are printed larger than life and at a glance, they might seem to merely be etched walls in abandoned buildings. Yet, they provide Luttringer with a metaphor for the marks she feels are still inscribed in her own body and on the bodies of other women who endured torture during the dictatorship's Dirty War thirty years ago.
The first time I saw 'Lamentos de los Muros (The Wailing of the Walls)', I felt trapped. One can feel the suffering and pain in just the few sentences that Luttringer chose to share, of the many hours of recordings by other abducted women.
I imagine these walls and fixtures are still there when she closes her eyes, as if permanently etched-then thankfully I remember that the brain can be kind at times, blocking out the most traumatic of experiences so that a person can better cope. Luttringer explains that for decades she could not bring herself to speak about what happened. Her desire to protect her loved ones from the intensity of it was mixed with overwhelming gaps in memory.
“Memories are moving. My own memories of what happened in my life are not the same today than they were thirty years earlier. When I am working on this project, I’m not talking about what really happened there, I’m talking about what I remember-and for me it’s very interesting to contact other women and talk with them about thirty years later ... what memories last inside them.” (5)
Everyone thinks, feels, experiences and remembers things differently. Our senses are continuously challenged by a world that assaults the safety of how we remember or would prefer to, and the brain makes sense of the chaos in the best way it can. While Isztin uses portraits of others to represent his feelings, Luttringer incorporates their words. As Karimipour pushes back on the concept of memory itself, Buckley pulls it in. All four of these artists touch upon how the most emotionally laden experiences persist, and those left untouched most likely become memory traces-fragile and ephemeral.
Their work will remain, even if memories change and fade.
Miriam Romais (c) 2008
1. Joshua Foer, “Remember This: In the Archives of the Brain, Our Lives Linger or Disappear,” National Geographic (November 2007): 44.
2. Pedro Isztin, phone conversation with author, August 19, 2008.
3. Angie Buckley, Nueva Luz (En Foco) 9, no. 1 (2003): 2.
4. Cyrus Karimipour, artist statement.
5. Paula Luttringer, conversation with author, September 23, 2008.
BIO: MIRIAM ROMAIS
Miriam Romais is the executive director of En Foco (http://www.enfoco.org/), a non-profit organization that supports contemporary photographers of diverse cultures, primarily US residents of Latino, African, and Asian heritage, as well as Native Peoples of the Americas and the Pacific. She received a BFA from Rutgers University, and has curated many exhibitions for En Foco and independently. As a panelist/reviewer she has served with FotoFest in Houston, TX; Center in Santa Fe, NM; Photo Lucida in Portland, OR; the Bronx Council on the Arts; the New York Foundation for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts; the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; and the Center for Photography at Woodstock, where she is also on the board of advisors. As a photographer, she has been awarded a Photography Grant from the Puffin Foundation, artist residencies at Light Work and the Photographic Resource Center, and Visual Arts Travel Grants from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. Romais is Brazilian-American. Her work may be viewed on her website at http://www.romaisphotos.com/.
It is with a full heart that I convey my gratitude to all that have helped me down this path. A special thanks to Jeff and Hannah at Light Work for their exceptional dedication and vision; to Charles Biasiny-Rivera for encouraging me to apply for their residency and for giving me the opportunity to lead a great organization; to Mark Hopkins for being a true partner in love and spirit; e para minha mãe, Terry Paladini Baumgarten for showing me how to persevere and believe.
BIO: ANGIE BUCKLEY
Growing up with a mother from Thailand and a Caucasian American father, Angie Buckley did not know her family history for many years. She relied on the conflicting memories and stories of relatives to piece together her heritage. Buckley received her BFA in Photography from Ohio University and her MFA in Photography from Arizona State University. She teaches at University of Colorado Denver and is also a portrait photographer. Buckley has received various awards, and her work has been exhibited nationwide, including at the Art Institute of Colorado, the Southern Light Gallery in Texas, the McDuffy Arts Center in Virginia, at New York University, and En Foco at Seventh & Second Photo Gallery in New York. Her works have been published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Coup Magazine, and Nueva Luz, among others. Her work may be viewed on her website at http://www.angiebuckley.com/.
My series the in-between is dedicated to my immediate and extended family. A special thank you to Miriam Romais of En Foco for her support and to Light Work for making this possible. I want to also thank and acknowledge Mark Klett and Bill Jenkins for their critical part in the development of these photographs.
BIO: PEDRO ISZTIN
Pedro Isztin was born to a Colombian mother and Hungarian father. His work explores and reflects this diverse heritage through many countries in the Americas and Europe. Isztin has exhibited and published nationally and internationally including recent exhibitions Destino I (home), II (journey), III (transformation) at Espace Odyssée in Gatineau, Canada, and Destino III (transformation) at FOTONOVIEMBRE 2007 in Tenerife, Spain.
The subjects of Destino III were a combination of old friends and family. Each of the models provided a childhood photo which connected to them to their past. Pedro then continued the theme and manipulated each scene to convey the subject’s greater connection to the world.
Isztin has received numerous awards and grants, including Photography Project grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council. His work is represented in the permanent collection of the Canada Council Art Bank. Isztin lives in Ottawa, Canada. His work can be viewed at htt://www.isztinfoto.com/.
I wish to kindly thank the models for this project Destino III (transformation), especially my papi Octavian, without whose trustful collaboration these works would not exist to the depth in which they have manifested. Also appreciated with many thanks are Miriam Romais, Hannah Frieser and the staff at Light Work. I believe in the power of inter-connection and thank the Glorious Creator for allowing me to recognize and share these messages, exploring life through photography.
BIO: CYRUS KARIMIPOUR
Cyrus Karimipour received his BA in English from Oakland University in Rochester, MI, and his MFA in Photography from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI. His work has been exhibited nationwide, including the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts, The Museum of New Art in Michigan, and Three Walls in Chicago. His work has been published in Harper’s Magazine, and can be found in the collections of The Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado, and Daimler Chrysler Financial Services in Michigan. He is a founding member of Moving Walls Collective, which, through its cultural exchange program, Changing Cities, has created an international dialogue between Detroit artists and galleries in Germany, Austria, China, and Iceland. Cyrus is represented by the Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham, MI, and his work can be seen at www.robertkiddgallery.com, as well as on his website, http://www.cyruskarimipour.com/.
I would like to thank Miriam Romais, Hannah Frieser, and everyone at Light Work whose hard work has made this exhibition possible. This series, Invented Memory, could not have been realized without the inspiration of Jack O. Summers, the nurturing of Carl Toth, and the love and support of my family and friends.
BIO: PAULA LUTTRINGER
Paula Luttringer faces her own traumatic past by infusing her imagery with the testimonials of other women about being abducted and held captive during Argentina’s Dirty War. Luttringer was twenty-one years old and pregnant when she was kidnapped and interred by the Argentine militia. She was held in a secret detention center for five months before being released and forced into exile.
Luttringer was awarded a fellowship by the Guggenheim Foundation in 2001. Her work is part of the collections of The National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) in Houston, TX; the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, as well as various private collections in Latin America, Europe, and the United States. Her work has been shown worldwide, including in the US, Argentina, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, Mexico, Venezuela, Perú, Brazil. She currently lives and works in Buenos Aires and Paris.
I would like to thank the Light Work team for being so warm and helpful during my artist residency in September 2008. I am particularly grateful to Hannah Frieser, who has provided me with invaluable support. I would also like to thank John Mannion, who was always generous with his knowledge, and interns Jennifer Wilkey, Jaclyn Lefkowitz, and Elisabeth Gorfaine for their unending patience and support during the editing and printing process. Miriam Romais from En Foco who invited me to this show about memory. Memory has been the central theme of my work. I give her a warm thank you.