Suspended Conversations

Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory in Photographic Albums

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Suspended Conversations
    Book Description:

    Albums are treasured by families, collected as illustrations of the past by museums of social history, and examined by scholars for what they can reveal about attitudes and sensibilities. Most agree that albums are stories that come to life in the retelling - but when no one is left to tell the tale, the intrigue of the album becomes a puzzle, a suspended conversation. Langford argues that oral consciousness provides the missing key. By correlating photography and orality she shows how albums were designed to work as performances and how we can unlock their mysteries.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6913-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-21)

    Each of us values our own photographs and rightfully sees them as unique, even as we stumble on their doubles in the collections of friends and strangers.Curiouser and curiouser, recognizing ourselves in others seems somehow to increase the significance of our photographic trove, its predictability compensated by our greater sense of belonging and stability. This mixture of feelings, and a rush of others, is excited by personal photographs and concentrated in the presence of a photographic album.

    Other collections may affect us, but never in the same way. What makes the album so special? Well, memories, of course. The...

    (pp. 22-39)

    A brief encounter with an anonymous album stirs a combination of feelings that is not very propitious for scholarly research: a balmy sense of delight and recognition met by the strong, countervailing winds of individual encryption that chill our relationship with the past. The infusion of memory that the compilation represents becomes a tease when the evidence fails to accrue, when the data cannot be read. Turning the pages of the McCord Museum's album MP 035/92 can be just such an experience; the palpable engagement of the participants is infectious, but the pleasure can only go so far before “the...

    (pp. 40-63)

    We have been looking at a paradigm, at theideaof album, its construction and deconstruction at the hands of human scientists, literary critics, and artists. Many of the texts and works of art discussed in the previous chapter seem to equate the personal album with the family album, thus setting up a pattern of dissolving the individual into the collective. I would not take issue with Maurice Halbwachs's essential definition of “collective memory.” I would only reiterate what he actually said: “While the collective memory endures and draws strength from its base in a coherent body of people, it...

    (pp. 64-88)

    All compilers appeal in some way to the future. Collectors make their stand in thoroughness and patience; they amass their messages to posterity; they hole up; they wait. Autobiographers are more disposed to action; they ride out to meet mortality with their own special version of events. Solipsism is risked; indeed, it is required of the autobiographer, who must saturate even hindsight with the alert and prescient self. An autobiographical album keeps its main protagonist alive and in wilful engagement with the now.

    In this chapter we consider two types of autobiographical albums, the memoir and the travelogue. A memoir...

    (pp. 89-121)

    One of the strangest objects in the photographic collection of the McCord Museum is a black morocco adjustable album containing approximately 263 amateur photographs, featuring a core group of people repeatedly depicted under similar circumstances over several decades - a family album. The Langlois/Gélinas Album (MP 145/84) was donated to the museum by Mrs Judy Yelon, who found it at a garage sale in Montreal. Its particular appeal to the museum rested on a tidy group of black and white gelatin silver prints from the early 1900s to 1925, many taken in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, around Baie-St-Paul and...

    (pp. 122-157)

    Click the shutter. Click the mouse. However you choose the frame, however oiled the apparatus, there is a click (a noise, a vibration) that marks the conjunction of stimulation and decision which has taken, or made, the photograph. The act is, and then it is over.

    Sound, like the photographic moment, is fugitive. Its utterance coincides with its disappearance. Recitation revives the original utterance, bringing it into a continuous present, just as the making and viewing of a photograph create a continuum with the past. Orality invests power in naming, which photography also does by the modern authority of mechanism....

  11. “PHOTOGRAPHS” 1916-1945
    (pp. 158-197)

    They are two. We do not know their names, their addresses, their parish, whether they worked, when and where they were born, or when and where they died. What do we know, and how?

    Fundamentally, we know that at least one of these women was an avid amateur photographer who pursued her interest during the thirties and early forties. We also know that the women lived in the province of Quebec, or at least spent holidays there. We know that they were Roman Catholic and that they spoke French. We know that they were people of moderate means, able to...

    (pp. 198-201)

    Orality lingers in the depths of photographic consciousness, silently petitioning for critical recovery. Yet so vital is the link that the merest suggestion is sufficient reminder; allusions to photography and orality can be caught like butterflies in a net. It was Alfred Appel, then professor of English at North-western University, who first captured the beautiful Joycean specimen that opened this book. His particular interest in the photographic memento mori was piqued by a snapshot of his own mortality, his understandable reluctance to be translated into a “grave image” before his time. Reflecting on Lee Friedlander's homage to Walker Evans (1903-75),...

  13. APPENDIX ONE: A Note on the Photographic Collections at the McCord Museum of Canadian History
    (pp. 202-205)
  14. APPENDIX TWO: The Photographic Albums Illustrated in the Text
    (pp. 206-214)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 215-226)
    (pp. 227-236)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 237-241)