I recently read an excerpt from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. In this excerpt, he discusses the idea of an “air” in photography, something captured in the image of a face “that exorbitant thing which induces from body to soul.” This idea, I believe, is what attracts me to old photographs, even of people who I do not know. These photos have always held for me a type of magic that is capable of preserving a moment in time, able to concretize the idea that “this-has-been.”

Now that I have been introduced to an eloquently formulated concept of this captured “air,” I believe that this is the quality that arouses my interest in studying these old photos. It is not just a moment in time that has been captured, but the essence of that moment held within the “air” of the person pictured. I think that is magic.

I have a small collection of photos of my maternal grandmothers, going back several generations, which definitely carry this essence. I have been studying these images to uncover the stories that are held within them. If these images do truly reveal the essence of the women presented in them, then I believe that the stories of these women can be un/dis/covered through those photos. I am currently working to unearth these stories and bring them to life through words, sounds and images.

Grandma Ora

Perhaps a deeper revelation could be gleaned through the conscious recognition of what Barthes refers to as the punctum (poignant detail) which reveals itself in these photos. Because these pictures are personal to me, that detail may very well be held within my own internal connection that can’t be so easily pointed to as say, her hat and shoes. Perhaps, because I am connected by lineage to the person represented in the photo, it is genetic memory which punctuates my desire to know more. Barthes describes how a photo which captures a landscape can induce in one a desire to inhabit the place depicted. I find, in these photos of my grandmothers, a longing to inhabit their stories in a way which seems to “carry me back to somewhere in myself…”

“Oh Sankofa, high on the Heavens you soar
My soul is soon to follow you, back to yesterdays moon
will it remember me?
Back to yesterdays sun, It will rekindle me
Rekindle the spirit into tomorrow and high on the wind
Sankofa flys again and again.”

lyrics by Cassandra Wilson


About mymyriadmuse

Monica J. Brown is a multi-disciplinary artist.
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2 Responses to Sankofa

  1. mymyriadmuse says:

    Revised from a post first published at Marginalia

  2. Pingback: TRUTH VS FACTS | My Myriad Muse

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