Destroyed Family Photos Reveal Hidden Truths in the Art of Odette England
'Excavations,' on view at Klompching Gallery, reconfigures family memories into tools to explore the limits of photography.
Melancholy, Odette England, 2015. Images courtesy of the artist and Klompching Gallery
Inhabiting a liminal space between photography and something entirely un-photographic, the images of Odette England seek to eliminate most of the pictorial nature of the photograph. Excavations, her series currently on view at Klompching Gallery, consists of various found photographs of the artist’s family whose details have been sandpapered-out to the point of abstraction, then re-photographed, and then sanded yet again. Most of the final results seem more like works by the ghost of Cy Twombly than collected family snapshots.
The 18 photographs in Excavations fall into two distinct categories. The smaller photographs contain some figurative semblance of the original snapshots; a woman gazing into an unknown abyss, an anonymous individual crouched on their stomach. Each of these are named after an emotional sensation that England saw within the depicted subjects and attempted to extrapolate in her new, decontextualized renditions.
Other works in the show are more monumental in size and are almost completely devoid of their original content, beyond peaking slivers of their original color. These entirely abstract works borrow their names from the exhibition’s title; each is a numbered Excavation, seeming to act as deeper explorations as to what comes to the surface when nearly everything recognizable is removed from a photograph.
Indeed, one of the goals of Excavations is to produce new ideas and interpretations from these collected and dated artifacts: “The idea for the work came from my ongoing fascination with reworking family snapshots to create new meanings and associations. As a child, I loved hearing stories about my upbringing, as well as the friendly arguments from misremembering or embellishing visual ‘facts,'” England reveals to The Creators Project. “It is this exaggeration and dramatization that using sandpaper afforded. I was able to blur detail, smooth areas, roughen up patches, or remove people or landscapes altogether.”
The fact that these images are sourced from the artist’s own family and that she is in essence, destroying them, might suggest an impulse to sever ancestral ties or erase family memory. But England argues that this was not her intention in making these works: “My act of sanding wasn’t spurred by a purgative impulse or contempt. I think my intention is more of a social re-choreography of story beyond the album, and resetting the ‘space’ of the photograph—perhaps because any physical act of image destruction cannot remove that which a viewer is not privy to: my ‘holding’ of the original snapshot in memory.”
Excavations will be on view at Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn until November 19th. More of Odette England’s works, including other projects that involve family photographs and found images, can be viewed on her website.