Wednesday 21st October I attended a seminar hosted by Professor Elizabeth Edwards, Research Professor in Photographic History at De Montfort University in Leicester who has written up to 80 published papers. So I think we can trust she knows what she’s on about.
The seminar ‘Folded In Time: Thoughts On An Edwardian Family Album’ revolved around an Oldham middle-class Edwardian family photo album. Edwards found and was drawn to this album in a junk shop. The Professor spoke in detail of the composite object, the album, is a “A thing of time and a thing in time”. Simply put, the album is a material assemblage of pieces of history and memory but itself has become that itself, an object of history. This object performs social realities and also shows the relationship between photography and a concept of collective/public cultural heritage.
The history is shown in 3 places; the design of the album, the photographs within the album and the physical decline of the album. The design of the album was the large topic of this seminar and the professor shined with mass knowledge as she informed us of watercolour images/text on the Magna Carter and the Lancaster/York houses of opposition. The album was gold edged with gothic style decoration.
The photographs too provided a story of its own. This was really rather amusing for me as Edwards admitted she isn’t interested in the photographs themselves but rather the use of them to determine how people negotiate their universe (Not just everyday life but also in the spiritual world). As a photographer, I felt like someone had popped a balloon at a children’s party. Personally I believe the context and composition of a photograph is every bit as important as the attributes of the album and the discovery involved in negotiating access. I’d like to be a bit cheeky and assert that I don’t like that statement because it’s a little contradictory to say that the photographs and their subjects don’t matter when really they contribute to the context. I think Edwards was trying to explore the album as a mysterious object of time but I like to go a little deeper than that and find the truths behind the object. However, we did establish that the chromolithographs of the family themselves is woven into the history of the album and helps to asses that this was evidently a middle-class family with enough money to afford professional photos that were devoid of excess people meaning no passers-by ruining the image.
Lastly, the physical decline of the album revealed the marks that have been left over time. However, generally this album had evidentially been treasured for over the years as it was in good condition. The irony of it ending in a junk shop.
But moving on I found that Professor Edwards would often reveal some interesting information that grabbed me, such as the idea that by exploring the family album “we are all historians” which I find such an exciting prospect as I have enjoyed studying history ever since GCSE as, like photography, you can continue to learn and discover more over the years. It is a never ending journey of twists and turns. An interesting analogy was also brought to light during the discussion of the album where our guest speaker referred to the French Philosopher, Michel Serres, to deliver the idea of time and history being like a crumpled handkerchief. I always love referencing to other sources such as Philosophy or Social Theory.
“Time can be schematised by a crumpling, a multiple, foldable diversity….. If you take a handkerchief and spread it out in order to iron it, you can see in it certain fixed distances and proximities. If you sketch a circle in one area, you can mark out nearby points and measure far-off distances. Then take the same handkerchief and crumple it, by putting it in your pocket. Two distant points suddenly are close, even superimposed.”
To end this post I will use a quote from Professor Elizabeth Edwards that I found interesting and stuck with me, it’s basic but I like how she phrased it.
“The Album is a self-conscious engagement with the past”
(Header Photo taken and borrowed from Caroline Molloy)