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Response 4 - 'Year Zero' reconstructed


Dear Marie,

Thank you for this task, which allowed me to return to, and think again about, work I need to finish. Before you read about the process of my response to the task, I suggest you watch the film that gives from to the response:

I think your comment that parameters may not generate content discoveries, but may lead instead to discoveries about your relation to the content you work with, may signal a difference in our artistic personalities. With some glumness (because it may be a gender thing), I have to characterise this difference in terms of investment in product and process. I care about what gets made; I think you care more about how it gets made. In fact, I’m suspicious of questions about my ‘relationship’ with the material I work with — who cares? That is, who cares about me? Dwelling on my feelings gets in the way! It favours personality over activity! Let me get on with it!

Once again, then, as with Task 2, I found myself resisting (or resenting) the task set, and once again, I have taken a distancing and ironic (and, yes, parametric) approach to the task and material.

I did try to follow the instructions carefully, and began by choosing twenty photos from the many taken for the still-incomplete Year Zero project recording our family life in the year following Lisa’s birth. One way or another, as some quick reading on family photography revealed, family photography is a gendered and generational practice: I decided to make this obvious by limiting my choice to pictures of you with Lisa. The pictures returned me to the intense physicality of those early weeks, when your body was swollen in service to this voracious and uncanny new being. Of course, I had in mind also the tradition of images of mother and infant, and I tried to include images that suggested the labour of motherhood, images in which Lisa seemed almost incidental to another activity and one in which youwielded a camera (taking Lisa’s first passport photo). I had a notion I’d foreground and critique the gendered gaze of my (iPad) camera: I assumed that the camera had traditionally been wielded by the father in the hetero-nuclear family, and I was part of that tradition of representing-men. I wanted to allow you (and Lisa?) to speak back to my coercive documentary eye/I.

But reading material on family photography, it fast became clear that, whatever may have been the case in the now-distant past when tech was expensive and patriarchs might have claimed the hobby and responsibility of photography, it was the motherwho typically recorded the family (or insisted on its record) and curated its archive. This is borne out in my own experience: my mother has a library of family photograph albums she has painstaking compiled, sorted, dated and captioned, still printing out images in this digital era. It struck me then that my Year Zero project was a kind of cultural or gendered appropriation, where I trespassed on the female territory of family archivist but signalled my distance from such a gendered role by the aestheticizing and defamiliarizing use of Instagram filters and choice of non-standard scenes or angles. Is this why I have never completed the Year Zero project? Because deep down in my sexist soul I feel it’s really woman’s work?

Let it not be so. In any case, I decided to point to the ambiguously gendered character of the task by making the lack of the father in it, except as ‘creator’, that much more obvious. As the voiceover says in the video, I felt embarrassed that your and Lisa’s bodies were being arrayed when mine was disavowed, rendered god-like and inviolate by its location behind the camera and off-scene. But instead of putting myself in the picture, I tried to foreground my presence, and to open it to critique, by absenting myself altogether. The voiceover in the film, clumsily read by Siri, is coded female (the allusion is to Sans Soleil, of course) and I even tried to get Lisa to undertake the work of making connections between images that you had instructed meto make (it was a tough evening at home with Lisa in bad temper — this was fun distraction for a while). I wanted her to be able to intervene in the curation of her early life; but when that only half worked, I decided to do that thing that drab dads do in American social comedy films: I made a slideshow of family snaps. However, consistent with the parametric approach of this project, I decided to let my MacBook’s photo app make it for me (the slideshow ‘theme’ I chose is called ‘Sliding Panels’, and the cheesy stock music that comes with it can briefly be heard over the closing titles to the film). I exported the automatically (or algorithmically) generated slideshow and imported it into Premiere Pro, where I combined it with a laconic voiceover, fragments from my googling and scholarly reading, and film of Lisa considering the twenty photos.

The film is too ‘busy’ to work as an aesthetic object: the slideshow crops some images so they become illegible and the crawling text is distracting. But I wanted the different discourses (visual, audiovisual, social media, scholarly, ironic, reflective…) to suggest, in their unresolved juxtaposition, both my own ambivalence and the ambiguous character of the task of family record being undertaken.

See here for next task.