Sunday, 12 February 2012

Memory

Photographer Nan Goldin speaking of why she took photos said something along the lines of, "I never want to forget a memory again".

There's something essential of that in the Lost and Found 3.11 project, a collection of found photos from Japan's tsunami-hit areas. People in the recovery effort collected lost photos as they worked on the clean up. Many photographs were able to be returned. The ones exhibited here were so badly damaged as to be unidentifiable. A smile among the water and bacteria damage here, a lone palm tree there; a hand in the V for "peace" discernable here, something which suggests a holiday there.
This is twofold memory – the earthquake and tsunami itself, and the lives effected and the memories lost.

But the exhibition also walks a fine line. These photos are so badly damaged they become abstract. And, covering every space of a wall in a small, boutique gallery, despite the organiser's intention, they almost become only abstract art. And the extreme disappearance of the human in these photographs almost removes the impact: five images displayed separately at the exhibition of weddings and ceeremonies where the people are fully visible have the most impact.

But only "almost". Enough of the real intention comes through. (An explanation of the exhibition says, in part, "What are we supposed to feel and think when we look at these pictures? Should we be happy that they were found at all, or sad that they will never be returned to their owners? Or should we simply mourn the dead?") Buying a poster means a ¥700 donation to the relief effort at the town of Yamamoto. And individually these photos speak to the disaster: the memory is not forgotten.

Update: a slide show was posted on The New Yorker's Photo Booth blog on March 20

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