Discussion: The Narrative of Photoalbums

“Does a print album carry a better narrative than a digital set of images?”

This was the question posed in our Phonar discussion follow examining Sarah Davidmann’s interview which referenced the fabrication of the photo album. In a physical photo album the subject can have a physical involvement in the construction and preservation for example by writing the memory on the back of them. However what happens where there is a missing photograph? It raises questions as to whether it was lost by accident or whether it was removed intentionally. This references the example from Sarah Davidmann where she discovered that although her Uncle Ken was transgender, he was only represented as heterosexual in her family photo albums; any photographic evidence of his transgender identity had been excluded or removed. In the digital culture the manipulation of family narratives is considered to be quite common, however the effect of this fabrication can have still have the same negative consequences. For example Kim Jong Un commissioned the removal of his Uncle Jang Song Thaek from every photograph shared together and in addition destroyed governmental documents that denoted their work together. Although on face value this appears to be comical as those who knew of Jang Song Thaek won’t forget him instantly, as time goes on and this time period becomes that of the past, the presence of this individual will have been lost in both memory and imagery. This can be reflected in the photo album, there is a finality in destroying a print photograph, Sarah Davidmann managed to rescue her Uncle’s memory and re-examined it to liberate his memory however how many individuals have been excluded from their family history for good? In addition to this there is the issue of the preservation of family images using a material which itself can be prone to destruction; surely the indestructible nature of the digital photograph would the better choice.

Print images appear to carry less of a trace than digital images, when we lose or destroy a physical print it is harder to retrieve than a digital image. A digital image will nearly always be findable, as once shared online there is no restriction to the amount of copies that can be made. The issue of findability is something that is being addressed in the society today as the European Union pressure Google to expand the right to be forgotten online outside of the existing parameters. There appears to be a different in nature between that of the physical print and of the digital image and perhaps a different purpose for them. Stephen Mayes identified that digital photography has become more of an experiential medium whereas the physical print exists more of an artefact, continually evidencing the static moment which perhaps means it is more appropriate contextually for preserving family memories.

In the debate between the purpose and importance of physical images compared to digital images the concept of narrative. As David Campbell explained, in order to construct a narrative we need to make certain inclusions and exclusions; it is impossible to encompass the whole world into one story. Although there have been certain instances where digital technology and editing software have been blamed (and rightly so) for the fabrication of the images, it is clear that the narrative can also be used to manipulate and fabricate therefore as photographers we need to take care in putting together a story whether it be with physical prints of photographs or digital images.


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