Documentary Theory

Photography, memory and place

“… in Photography, I can never deny that the thing has been there. There is a superimposition here: of reality and of the past. And since this constraint exists only for Photography, we must consider it, by reduction, as the very essence, the noeme of Photography.” (Barthes 1982,p.76)

Photographic images affect the way we remember moments we experienced ourselves, and our impressions of things we experience via the image alone. Barthes also proposes how the photograph can act as a “counter-memory”, aggressively blocking impressions formed by our other senses as it “fills the sight by force” (ibid, p. 91 quoted Alexander 2013p107).

Many practitioners have engaged with idead of personal memories (family albums, holidays) in one form or another:

  • Trish Morrissey
  • Gillian Wearing
  • Joachim Schmid.
  • Peter Kane goes back to places depicted in his family’s photo album and re-photographs and superimposes the images.

Photography has also been used to explore and challenge the construction of collective memories (eg documentation of ‘early’ or ‘late’ photography as well as events unfolding)

  • Shimon Attie uses contemporary media to explore relationships between space,time, place and identity working with communities to find new ways of representing their history.
  • Jeff Wall produces large tableaux of events, or staged events, referencing the way history painting interpreted and often glorified historical events.
  • Luc Delahaye also references history painting, using large format analogue cameras to document meetings, political ceremonies and war zones.

But as Bates cautions (see also my reaction to Meyerowitz):

“As sites of memory, photographic images (whether digital or analogue) offer not a view on history but, as mnemonic devices, are perceptual phenomena upon which a historical representation may be constructed. Social memory is interfered with by photography precisely because of its affective and subjective status…in terms of history and memory, photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reverie’ (Bate The Memory of Photography pp255-256)

The matter of ‘reality’ is an important aspect to consider in relation to all areas of photography: who is recording what, why, for whom and why?

3.5: Local history

3.6: ‘The Memory of Photography

3: Landscape as Political Text Inspiration

Shimon Attie



Shimon Attie (born Los Angeles in 1957 ) is an American visual artist. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008, The Rome Prize in 2001 and a Visual Artist Fellowship from Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study in 2007. His work spans a variety of media, including photography, site-specific installation, multiple channel immersive video installation, performance, and new media. Much of Attie’s practice explores how a wide range of contemporary media may be used to re-imagine new relationships between space, time, place, and identity. Much, though not all, of Attie’s work in the 90s dealt with the history of the second world war. He aims to engage his audience in a direct confrontation with collective memory and the historical narrative of a place.

The Writing on the Wall (1992–94)

The work explores loss and trauma in relation to place. It consisted of a series of site-specific projections in Scheunenviertel, which was Berlin’s Jewish quarter. Through meticulous research, Attie used images from before the 1930s and projected these onto the remains of buildings, which have since been demolished as the area has been redeveloped. These ‘montages’ are very carefully arranged, so that pictorial elements from the projected photographs complement architectural details, such as windows and doorways. The resulting effects are provocative, ghost-like tableaux in a temporal transgression, where fractured narratives converge unnaturally in one space.

See images

Recent work

More recent projects have involved using a range of media to engage local communities to find new ways of representing their history, memory and potential futures. Attie’s artworks and interventions are site-specific and immersive in nature, and tend to engage subject matter that is both social, political and psychological. In 2013, Shimon Attie was awarded the Lee Krasner Award for Lifetime Achievement in Art.


Lots of You Tube videos but rather long lectures

3: Landscape as Political Text

Peter Kane

Significant Space (2005)

See some of the images

As part of the resolution to his Photography degree, Peter Kane revisited places depicted in his family’s photo album, which included himself as a boy. He travelled back to particular locations – some specific landmarks, others more non-descript parts of the landscape – and re-photographed the space according to the composition of the original photograph.

In the bottom left of the frame of Kane’s new images, he holds the original photograph. The inclusion of Kane’s hand makes a physical connection between himself and the photograph. This is in sharp focus, and the space beyond, which he has revisited, falls out of focus. On a visual level, this split between the two focal planes instantly draws the viewer to the ‘vintage’ photograph. This strategy creates a deliberate dichotomy between the photograph that Kane presents – literally from his own ‘point of view’ – and the scenery beyond. It is as if the actual space beyond is eclipsed; it has lost its relevance and no longer bears any relation to Kane’s actual sense of the place.

(Alexander 2013 p107)

(I could not find anything more on the web.)



2: Landscape as Journey 5: Resolution 6: Transitions Inspiration

Ian Brown

Walking and mapping are also central to Ian Brown’s series Walking the Land (2007).

Exhibition images

In this collection of 10 images, Brown digitally layered a large number of sets of photographs, each set made on different walks. The resulting images resemble abstract impressionist paintings and provide a peculiar overview of the journey and the terrain Brown travelled through. The final images rendered by the layering technique are limited in terms of their actual pictorial detail, yet manage to convey a sense of the particular topography of each landscape.This process is akin to a method of mapping the particular route Brown walked.

An interesting aspect of Walking the Land is that some of Brown’s walks were made a considerable time ago, before he had access to a film scanner and Photoshop.

Source Jesse Alexander 2013 p68.

No further information found on Google.