Photography Today

Photography = a piece of belonging?

“To the imagination, to memory, nothing is really lost if
it is experienced with affirmation. … In my photographs…,
I attempt to arrive at something poetic, something I can hold on to both as an image and as emotional sustenance…”

Taken From Memory published by Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg is the result of a 25-year long-time project by American photographer Sheron Rupp (b. 1943 in Mansfield, Ohio). Searching for connections to her own biographical past, Rupp took these photographs in rural America looking to find a piece of someone else’s life to give her a sense of “belonging”. Personal in nature, these photographs offer a stirring glimpse into the life in the commonly disregarded rural areas and small towns between the bustling metropolises of the East and West Coast. Without pretence or irony, without assertation or judgment, Rupp’s impressions from the past also work as a commentary on today’s US society.

To be honest, just judging from seeing the images on the screen, I like some of the images from the book, but I’m not in love with it. But what I really want to talk about from this book is what Rupp said, “these photographs were taken at a time when I felt desperate to find a piece of someone else’s life, which could give me a sense of ‘belonging.’” The question is, aren’t we all photographing something which gives us a sense of ‘belonging’? Isn’t that the reason why we take pictures? Because that’s the stuff we care so much about, which basically is really something that we truly want to be associated with? I belong to this community, I belong with this concept, I belong with this social issue. We are objectifying these feelings into images and prints so that we can hold onto and present them, so others who happen to want to ‘belong’ to the same space would resonate, would want to be part of it?

The notion of making pictures feels like a constant need to lead ourselves to be part of something, to belong somewhere, to associate with a moment in time. I don’t know for certain. It’s a theory I came up with. But what’s intriguing is the work by Dawn Parsonage which maybe is one of the outliers of this theory. Her “boring” series brilliantly highlights the private struggles we all face when bored – the struggle to find meaning, to find ways to occupy our restless minds. Do we want to be bored? Especially living in the 21st century when mass information can be loaded for you every second? I certainly don’t think that this is a concept that modern people would want to belong with, but it is no doubt a piece of us that we have and most often deny.

© Dawn Parsonage, from the work ‘Boring’; Source @ Dawn Parsonage

While some works remind us about what we care about, what we want to belong to; some remind us about what really belongs with us that we are constantly fighting to avoid or deny.

References: http://theheavycollective.com/2019/05/05/qa-sheron-rupp-taken-from-memory/

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