remainder / reminder
photographs by jordan hefler
Photographs have the power to represent a fleeting moment of reality, emotion, or both. They can serve as a personal stance on documentation, while simultaneously creating a fantasy of something that was once real. If life is beautiful in its imperfections, then photography can be a true or false reflection of this. Much has changed since the beginning of photography, but what has stayed constant is the unwavering desire to document the world around us. We see what we want to see, and photography’s gift to humanity is the ability to further document that selective vision and place a time stamp on it. Snapshots of seemingly uninteresting objects, places, and people seem cliché until they become important chunks of history later down the line. Photographs can be better referred to as “visual memories.” Just like photographs, we can revisit memories as many times as we want. I am interested in both the reality of the world around me, as well as the potential of what it could be in terms of the documented image. Through the use of appropriated family imagery and alternative analog photographic processes, Remainder / Reminder invites the viewer to reflect on his or her own idea of memory and partake in the nostalgia of photographic history coming full circle.
Our memories are so strongly rooted in our sense of self, and it is heartbreaking to see the process of memory loss in action. As time fades away, so does our ability to recollect moments, no matter how important they may have once been to us. Nostalgia can be a very personal experience, especially when intertwined with our families and the stories we have been told. Pictured in many of the photographs that I have appropriated for this project is my French grand-mère, my mother’s mother, who has been a reoccurring fixture in my photographic work for my past few projects due to her rapid decline in mental health. Like her memory, these photographs are vague and occasionally damaged. Some are tangible and clear, while others are foggy hints of a time or place. So many of these images seem familiar to me, yet I was not even alive when any of them were taken. Repeated faces and places surface over and over again in the images, making it difficult to distinguish the real from the imagined. This perpetual mental fuzziness is completely mirrored in the visits that I have with my grand-mère in recent years: one minute you think there might be clarity and then you realize you might as well be talking to a stranger. Each conversation becomes more and more unpredictable as time goes on, and the minute you start doubting her mental coherence you are proven wrong yet again. By taking advantage of the unique properties of both the image transfer and emulsion lift processes, I am mimicking the unpredictable nature of the mind throughout the course of time.
Old photographs have an air of respect placed upon them that rarely gets challenged by destructive processes other than their natural decay over time. Because my family’s slide film has never been viewed any other way than through a slide projector, I am using a slide transfer machine to expose them onto instant peel-apart film and bring them into a tangible state to apply the alternative processes of image transfer and emulsion lift. By intentionally manipulating the images transferred from my family’s archived slide film, I am able to turn the metaphor of memory into a physical object all my own. Both of these processes lend themselves to my translation of memory loss via the haunting aesthetic they leave behind. The image transfer process typically leaves an unpredictable stickiness that binds to the texture of the paper, giving it a rough and rhythmic aesthetic. Conversely, once the film is boiled in hot water, I take advantage of the unique qualities such as clear highlights and veil-like flexibility by adhering the lifted emulsion to glass surfaces. My grand- mère’s obsessive love for French jams and fragile knick-knacks inspired the sculptural aspect of placing the emulsion onto vessels, suggesting a theme of preservation of memory. Other memories are isolated and framed in shadow boxes to give a sense of depth and clarity. There is an element of chance that makes working in these alternative methods feel important and grounded in the present, even when working with photographs from the past. The inconsistencies of the process are just as integral to the photographic concept than the finished product itself. My creative license lies in my initiative to claim authorship with my process—I am making my own memories now.
If you have any questions about the Polaroid emulsion lift / transfer process, or would like a custom piece made with your own slide film, please contact me here.