Hidden Histories: A study of diasporic identity mediated through family photography

Caroline Molloy

Palavras-chave: Photography; Memory; Belonging; Hidden Histories; Transcultural identity; Post- memory; Absence and Presence; Beyond the Frame

Participação: presencial

The focus of this paper predominately centres on one photograph, which is used to pivot discussions around the power of vernacular photographic images as a form of knowledge production. I draw from my PhD research that looks at the emergence of transcultural identity through family photographs and recount an interview with one participant - Jan, who arrived in England fourteen years prior to my meeting her and do a close reading of her photographs. Jan who initially identifies as English, then Turkish and later on during our encounter reveals her Kurdish heritage, discusses the importance of her family photographs in locating her diasporic identity. I look at the mnemonic value of her photographs, drawing reference from, amongst others, Annette Kuhn (1995, 2001), Martha Langford (2001), in evoking critical memories and examine how this photograph enables generational transference from memory to post-memory (Marianne Hirsch 1997). I examine the photograph not as evidence of ‘truth’ but as material though which anecdotes, fragments and feelings can be elicited. In doing this, I pay attention not only the photograph and the narrative but the social performance of Jan (Erving Goffman 1959) as shown through specific gestures, expressions, practices and think through how this informs my understanding of the photograph. In sharing a close ethnographic reading of the photograph (which this paper intends to do), a hidden history which would otherwise have passed unnoticed is revealed. The account that accompanies this photograph takes the reader beyond the visual surface and reveals a traumatic familial narrative. With the exception of the older man in the photograph, all the people depicted in the photograph died being illegally smuggled from Turkey to Britain. The meaning of this photograph is not anchored in its construction, instead it is ignited by the shared narrative, that sits within the wider cultural context of migration, death and bereavement. In sharing the narrative, the photograph simultaneously offers private and public insight into its meaning. It becomes a testament to the violent nature of death and plays an important role in mitigating the finality of death for Jan and her family. In doing so, it also speaks to a broader cultural narrative that hints at the fragility and rupture of families in migration. The narrative account is told and retold. Through this process details are forgotten and the memory shifts, the past is re-negotiated in the present as the memory shifts from mother to daughter.


Dr Caroline Molloy - Caroline is an artist, academic and writer. She is the programme director of Fine Art, Digital Arts and Photography at University for the Creative Arts in Farnham. She holds an MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art, an MA in Visual Anthropology from Goldsmiths UoL. and recently achieved a practice-led PhD from Birkbeck in the Centre for Photographic History and Theory. Her research interests are focused on the marginalised voice in both gender and post/decolonial colonial contexts. Her work in Women of Walsall is currently on show at the New Art Gallery Walsall (2021) as part of the Living Memory Project and she has recently exhibited her work Untouched Copy and the Book of Backgrounds at the Four Corners, London, as part of the Ph research network exhibition Bridging Boundaries. Recent peer reviewed written publications include (2020) ‘Rethinking the photographic studio as a politicised space’, in Ashley, T., Weedon, A. (eds.) Developing a Sense of Place: Models for the Arts and Urban Planning. London: UCL publishing. In addition to this, she regularly writes for Visual Studies, The Journal of Visual Practice, 1000words magazine and Photomonitor around the relationship between photography and visual culture