Dissective Nostalgia

This blogspace will allow for an ongoing discussion on topics of global and local significance, specifically as they relate to our discussion on 21 October.

It is my understanding that, to date, you have come to understand certain contemporary processes of globalization through the lenses of more invisible structures such as class struggle, nationhood and professional propriety.

Today, I'd like to begin by leaving global behind for a moment, and thinking purely local. I'm going to discuss design in the context of writing and history, and share with you one particular project that has become a catalyst and a conduit for some of my own ongoing questions about visual thinking, cultural disparity and the paradoxical relationship between memory and memorabilia.

By way of disclaimer, let me just say that my comments are unquestionably biased toward my own interests, perspectives and proclivities. I am a designer, a writer, an educator, a mother, a collector and a critic.

To begin, rather than assigning readings, I'd like to direct our conversation to the images here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

An Edwardian Scrapbook

Meticulously kept album documenting the childhood of a son born to a family of daughters—includes photographs, ephemera and copious captions detailing one boy's life in Edwardian England.


Blogger jason toth said...

(Note: This is not as much a comment on the local or global, but on the formal qualities of what I perceive to be occurring in this particular album.) What I find quite interesting and fascinating about this type of documentation is the sequential nature that emerges within this set of photos. Most certainly this does provide a more historical framework for McCloud's writing on transitions, placing it in a context that is easily understood in terms of comic language. The literal framing of the photograph through the camera lens coupled with the framing of these individual images within the frame of the page suggest a sequential reading of a story. What a great lesson to be learned in narrative and sequence. This reminds me of my love for the Eames film "Goods" for its use of three separate projectors that frame a larger concept by simultaneously showing three images of the same object shot from different perspectives. Through the devices of perspective, scale, and cropping, these images provide a story not told through the framing of one single image (or even the clicking through of these images individually). I see this particular scrapbook unfolding in the same manner. What begins to occur in this particular set of images is that the "event" of this afternoon is foregrounded, overriding the permanence of an exact moment, that a single image documents. Compared to the stalwart positioning of figures and sets within Victorian photography (especially of children) that suggests an different type of documentation, the placement and selection of these images provide a much broader and more playful context in which to interpret this September afternoon in 1926. In this context, "scrapbooking" begins to operate in a more cinematic or storyboarding manner emphasizing the story told between the photographs over the images themselves.

I picked up this interesting "album book" (trying to get JH to post this) that appears to be from the 50's where this type of sequencing occurs. (More specifically, I think it is a good example of the type of aspect-to-aspect transitions that McCloud notes.) In this collection, there is an infamous "Mrs Mayberry" that is noted on the back of each image (who this is we never know) who seems to be either attending/throwing a reunion party of some sort. Images of the group shown in sequences are displayed, along with several photos of the setting in which this gathering occurs. An interesting single image of two of the participants embracing rather stiffly on a porch provides some context of the afternoon, but much is left to the imagination. Regardless, the sequencing of these images is an important lesson in the design of motion and transitions. In the age of the digital image and camera where hundreds of images are trashed daily, Photoshop manipulation rules the roost, and "mistakes" of the author are never present, the sequencing of images that reveal authorship and history are seemingly forgotten. I appreciate this scrapbook for providing us with the renewed sensibilities to understand sequence, framing, and narrative.

7:22 PM  
Blogger ~tk said...

excellent post! and a really interesting analysis of the scrapbook.

There's something intriguing about the collection of the collections that's starting to emerge. What I mean is that the aspect-to-aspect observation you made regarding this scrapbook starts to affect how I view the Graduate Girl books (one & two). I used the GG books in contrast to the observations I was making re: the Victorian Death Book in terms of POV and degrees of separation, but the Graduate Girl books can also be used as a contrast to the Edwardian Scrapbook in terms of how it starts to explore that "gutter space" that this book suggests/acknowledges, but doesn't visit.

9:10 AM  
Blogger goodtobeglad said...

(This is Jessica Gladstone)

Stuart Ewen stirred up a lot of dust when he visited recently, and sent it skittering off the sides of some moldy library books at D.H. Hill. When I cracked their covers, I recognized how completely accurate he is in forgrounding much of our design assumptions and investigations in history. Repeatedly, he cut through our pompous jargon and simply asked us to breakdown our wall of words into simple bricks. Now, our goel is construct sentences with even weight and just the right amount of creative mortar.

Well, just this morning I've been reading about the genre of television drama and a circular argument that TV drama both relies upon and contructs our pulic knowledge of issues like gender, race, sexuality and social class. Yet, through the lens of postmodern televison theory, these very constructs have been called into question as having little value or quality, aka a bunch of smoke and mirrors. Further, TV critics posit that there is nothing behind these representations of identity categories akin to reality and that the images we see on television merely connect with one-another in an insular and self-perpetuating sign-system.

It is noted that television has been heralded as
"unmatched" in its' visual blurring of categories such as real and imagined, and its' appeal to both popular, high and low culture, to the extent that televison, in it's fragmented sense of identity, is an express informant of today's scrapbooking.

Whether a maker intends to "get it right" by taking craft classes and making from a "kit of parts" (blurring the real and imagined) or whether a maker extrapolates from photographs, art, stardardized expressions or clip art illustrations (high and low culture), the subject of the memories is never a mere fiction. The form (and labor) won't allow for it (Griffin and Sabine is a possible exception) For, there is always a history to pull from and narrate, and there is often physical evidence of said life in certain events (a lock of hair, a ticket stub, fabric, handwriteen love letters, annotations on photographs, etc...) This physicality eliminates the debate in questioning mediated representations of the documented life. Though still relative in terms of narrative construction, scrapbooking is inherently more evidentiary than a televised narrative construction.

The example of the Ewardian Scrapbook predates television and is not questioned in terms of its' narrative authenticity. Yet today, I think that the mass-distribution of scrapbooking enabler/starter materials has become, in part, swept up in a public/social reaction to television. Today's activity of contructing a history is undoubtedly informed by the structure of identity categories reflected on screen which inevitably sets modern memory books apart from the veil of authenticity surrouding scrapbooks of yesterday.

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