Performing the (private) archive, rethinking history, and rewriting memory

Ana Janeiro

Palavras-chave: Archive; Memory; Performance; Photography; Second-generation

Participação: presencial

This paper approaches the use of vernacular photographs in artistic practice. It reflects on the role of the arts and artist in approaches to private photographic archives. Family albums are analysed and used as a basis for artistic creation. The images contained in the albums inform about a period in history which makes them relevant outside the family narrative. The albums, from my mother and father’s parents, contain images taken in Portugal and the former Portuguese territories of India and Mozambique, between 1940 and 1975. They provide more than the information about these families in particular; they inform about life in these territories during this period. They represent a period in Portugal’s past scarred by one of the longest dictatorships in history.

The photographic work is based on an analysis of the photographs in the family albums from both families. Focusing specifically on the images of my two grandmothers, as representative of two women’s lives during this historical period. Both women lived under the same dictatorial regime, but one living in mainland Portugal and the other in the Portuguese overseas territories (India, 1951-61 and Mozambique 1962-75).

This presentation will discuss the possibilities of the use of archives in contemporary artistic practice. It reflects on the importance of private photographic archives in the rethinking of history and the reshaping of memory. Specifically, this paper will describe how performance can be used as a valid research tool in the study of photographic images.

Some of the questions approached are:

What is the relevance and importance of artistic practice in relation to the archive? How does the artist intervene in the historical archive? How can artistic intervention into an existing archive contribute to shaping the past and the present?

Can (private) family archives provide new readings to mitigate the absences in the collective archive?

Is performance a valid tool in the interpretation of an archive? How can gesture be explored and re-enacted, and how does it inform the archive? How does the archive become a stage and the interpreter/narrator its actor?

The work presented in this paper is a performative method of interpreting or enacting these archives. This paper will describe in detail how performance photography can be used as a practice method for the critical interpretation of archives. Ultimately establishing the use of performance as an effective method for understanding and investigating archives which are eventually representative of life within a historical period.


Hirsch, Marianne. 2012. Family Frames Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press.
Jones, Amelia. 2002. “The ‘Eternal Return’: Self-Portrait Photography as a Technology of Embodiment.” The University of Chicago Press 27 (4): 947–78.
Nora, Pierre. 1989. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” Representations, no. 26 (March): 7–24.
Reading, Anna. 2014. “Making Memory Work for Feminist Theory.” In The SAGE Handbook of Feminist Theory, edited by Mary Evans, Clare Hemmings, Marsha Henry, Hazel Johnstone, Sumi Madhok, Ania Plomien, and Sadie Wearing, 196–214. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Tamboukou, Maria. 2013. “Archival Research: Unravelling Space/Time/Matter Entanglements and Fragments.” Qualitative Research 0 (0): 1–17.


Ana Janeiro uses self-portraiture and performance photography in her artistic research. She holds a PhD from the University of Westminster (2019) and an MA in Photography from the KIAD (currently UCA) UK. She studied fine Arts at the Universidade de Lisboa, in Lisbon. She has exhibited regularly since mid-2000. The following solo shows are of special note: The Archive is Present, London Gallery West, London, UK (2019); ALBUM, Índia Portuguesa 1951- 1961, Laboratório das Artes, Guimarães (2010). Recently participated in the following group shows: BF20, bienal de fotografia, Vila Franca de Xira (2021); Trabalho Capital # Greve Geral, Centro de Arte Oliva, São João da Madeira (2019) ; GoaPhoto, Revisiting the Album, Aldona, Goa, Índia (2019); hyphen- an exposition between art and research, AmbikaP3, Londres, Reino Unido (2019); Do outro lado do espelho, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisboa (2017/18) Between Here and Then, London Gallery West, CREAM-University of Westminster, Londres, Reino Unido (2017); Betwixt and Between, FOMU-Fotomuseum of Antuerpia, Bélgica (2017). She is an Invited Associate Professor at the School of Communication and Media Studies of the Lisbon Polytechnic. Teaches photography in the Photography and Visual Culture course at IADE. She is represented in several art collections.