As of Today 21811 Blog Posts

posted on 06.23.09
by Arty

Some notes on trying to connect things that interest me:

1. Harrell Fletcher's beautiful collaboration with Jon Rubin at the SF MOMA called Wallet Pictures, during which 150 of visitors' wallet pictures were rephotographed in the museum lobby. Ten images were then selected, enlarged, framed, and included in the museum's permanent collection. I had an amazing opportunity to meet Fletcher and see him give an artist talk at The Banff Centre. He radiated kindness and appreciation of people, combining it with a sharp ability to convey his interest to others, convincingly showing that people really are worthy of being looked at. And so are their pictures.

2. Likewise, the website/blog Awkward Family Photos has been gaining a lot of press for doing a very similar thing. It has become an overnight sensation and is promising to become an equally sensational coffee book. I would buy it. It shows that all families can be strange, and that it can be just as entertaining as pretending to be someone else. It's like the inversion of what early Internet was supposed to bring - anonymity. I've been thinking a lot about this - perhaps very idealized notion - that Web 2.0 has done a funny thing to the Internet. People want to share their own uniqueness, while others are willing (and eager), to read/watch/respond to it. A tender society. Like the Harrell Fletcher's text.

3. Marianne Hirsch's incredible book Family Frames is written as a response to an accidental loss of a box of pictures of her grandmother. She returns again and again to Barthes' Camera Lucida, specifically to the passages that describe his relationship to a photograph of his mother, taken in a winter garden. Despite acknowledging the possibility of construction and mediation, she emphases the “this has been” aspect of family photographs; the idealized notion that they will give her a glimpse of some truth, something she cannot access otherwise. Deconstructing photography as a complex familial means of self-representation (and often self-construction) fascinates me.

4. Svetlana Boym's writing, specifically about Ilya Kabakov's work, suggests the notion of “diasporic intimacy”, which is created through chance encounters with those who also share a longing for home. “diasporic intimacy is dystopian by definition; it is rooted in the suspicion of a single home...It thrives on unpredictable chance encounters, on hope for human understanding. Yet this hope is not utopian. Diasporic intimacy is not limited to the private sphere but reflects collective frameworks of memory that encapsulate even the most personal of dreams. It is haunted by images of home and homeland, yet it also discloses some of the furtive pleasures of exile.”

5. It could be interesting to combine these ideas on diaspora with Marc Augé's concept of non-places, a hypermodern phenomena such as airports or supermarkets or bus stops, that lack defining qualities of a “place”, that are merely transition points. Could this be extended? Could one view non-places as non-physical, more as sites marked by lack (or amnesia) of personal meaning, linking it to Boym and Kabakov's installations? The fabricated worlds being the opposite of non-place, instead creating environments where stray visitors could be hit by a sudden sense of intimacy?

Here I would like to come back to Harrell Fletcher. Perhaps his genius is in converting the “white cube” of the gallery from an alienating place of “high art” to that of intimate exchange with complete strangers.


To find the sources, please look at:

Wallet Pictures:

Awkward Family Photos:

Towards a Tender Society:

Parts of Family Frames on Goolge Books:

Camera Lucida:

Parts of Boym's essay can be found here:

The whole essay is part of her book on nostalgia:

Augé's Non-Places can be previewed on Google Books:




“Do you know the work of author W.G. Sebald? "Sebald’s four novels and his one book of non-fiction are all peppered with black and white images, most of them photographs. Sebald is a long-time amateur photographer and a collector of photographs found at charity shops, at garage sales, in garbage bins, along road sides. In his books, these photographs always arrive unannounced, but always just in time to buoy a claim or stabilize a reference. In Sebald’s books, the photographs fulfill the role played by the anatomy textbook in Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson. Actually, to be more precise, the photographs fulfill the role played by the anatomy textbook in the scene depicted in Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson. Reading Sebald, we are the members of the Guild of Surgeons, distracted from the subjectivity of the testimony before us by the apparent objectivity of the photographs." ”
Posted over 6 years ago
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Roland Barthes
Ilya Kabakov


Visual Arts
20th Century & Beyond
Installation Art
Art Criticism And Theory




Family Photographs
Vernacular Photography
Diasporic Intimacy
Photographic Theory