Photography in the Landscape of Memory and Forgetting
Much of my creative project work for the past fifteen-years was inspired by the discovery of an album of family photographs sadly abandoned in a Denver, Colorado antiques mall. After looking at the photographs for ten-years I felt so connected to the people and places in the album that I had an uncanny sense of knowing the photographer. An internet search revealed that Nina Weiste made the photographs in 1917 while she was attending teacher’s training at the State Normal and Industrial School in Ellendale, North Dakota. Nina’s photographs provide inspiration for my project. However, a significant outcome was recognition that childhood sexual trauma produced a healing space within my imagination for Nina Weiste to reside. And in that space Nina has become my partner. As a psychological construct the relationship offers productive terrain to contemplate the creative potential of interconnection. I married an idea. I married possibility.
The discovery of Nina’s grave in the same Denver neighborhood where I previously found her photographs invigorated the project. I constructed a shrine with an assemblage of Nina’s 1917 family photographs around her gravestone. Positioning Nina’s photographs within my own generated a reassuring sense of intimate proximity. Capitalizing on such assurance I produced high resolution scans from a selection of Nina’s photographs, plus photographs of female Finnish settlers and their female descendants from family albums preserved within the collections of two local museums in the vicinity of Nina’s Dakota birthplace. I printed life-sized photographs from the scans then juxtaposed them with myself in a variety of project specific sites in the Dakotas and in Finland. And so, Nina’s Finnish heritage emerged to become a project imperative. Additional project themes are interconnection, healing from sexual trauma, my relationship with women, my relationship with photography, redefining family, migration, reverse migration, and enlightenment.