Eva Bensasson

Repetition, stillness, collective memory: return urban photography

Central Saint Martins

The research asks how a practical investigation using strategies of repetition and return might improve our understanding of the mnemonic properties of photographic still images of urban environments. Photographic practice offers crucial insights into the processes by which collective experience, as understood through memory, is constructed and can be critiqued. Repetition is a key element in the formation of both individual and collective memory. 

There are three aspects, or interpretations, of ‘repetition’ that will be investigated through this research. The first is the notion of repetition as daily, monthly or yearly recurrence. For example, the repeated activities of the people who use the site that forms my case study, and my activities as photographer/researcher.

The second considers the historical repetition of strategies to ‘condemn’ or ‘improve’ the area. The third involves the problem or paradox of repetition itself, vis-à-vis the conflicting temporalities that it invokes: what actually can be said to stay the same and what is it that changes when there is repetition? What qualitative differences do different kinds of repetition create and what uses have artists/photographers made of these- historically and currently? All three interpretations of repetition will be used to interrogate the meaning and operation of the photographs resulting from the practical work.

This enquiry considers the term ‘collective memory’ as having two spheres of relevance for photography within visual arts practice. These have emerged from different intellectual genealogies. The first considers photography as instrumental to the social frameworks of memory formation. The second emphasises the affective qualities of photographs and their ability to offer an alternative perception of social relations, through the presentation of spatio-temporal paradoxes.

Four series of photographs will be created over thirty-seven months. The mnemonic operations of the photographic images created will be appraised in relation to the two models. In order to answer the research question, this enquiry looks at the impact of repetition and return on photographic representations of the everyday. It also looks at how collective memory can be constituted through photographic still images presented in series, as well as the paradoxes of stillness within photographic images, in relation to the temporalities invoked.

Supervisors

Susan Trangmar (Director of Studies)

Professor Graham Ellard