The Photograph As A Site of Mnemonic Return

  • Martina Cleary

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This doctoral research addresses the question of how the photograph can operate as an environment of mnemonic return. Using practice-based research as the site for the generation of new knowledge, the project evolves over three stages (Phases I – III), moving from the individual to collective contexts. Drawing from the fields of philosophy, psychoanalysis, memory theory, and contemporary art, the research explores inter-relationships between the image, memory and generative or regenerative creative strategies used to reconstitute lost or partial identity narratives. The project is designed to incorporate conversational partners at each stage, which also includes research outputs through public exhibition, discussed sequentially in Chapters 2, 3 and 4. A comprehensive overview of all practice-based outcomes has been produced as a series of books to accompany this text (Appendices i-iv). These include a full catalogue of artworks presented through interim and final exhibition, along with three prototype photobooks, one for each of the stages outlined. The research is located within the developing field of practice-based Fine Art enquiry, and the artwork produced is treated and discussed as the site of new knowledge.

    This research proposes and outlines a working practice-based methodology, through which the photograph can be treated as a site of mnemonic return. In Phase I, this is examined as an individual engagement with autobiographical photographic materials, where the operation of memory in relationship to the image is elicited, triggered and examined through iterative studiobased visual cycles of return, contextualised in reference to selected psychotherapeutic, autobiographical, psychogeographical and aesthetic methods. In Phase II, the autobiographical method is continued but extended outward to encompass cultural and collective memory, through identifying and creatively reimaging mnemonic links to André Breton’s semi-autobiographical novel Nadja. Breton’s text is re-navigated, psychologically and also mnemonically to reimagine the potential of its main protagonist, Nadja. Breton’s work is used as a mnemonic map and armature, to forge connections between the private sphere of individual autobiographical memory, and its potential as shared creative or imaginative recollection. In Phase III, previously unpublished materials by Dorothea Lange, from her 1954 commission for Life Magazine in Ireland, are used as a starting point for collaborative fieldwork, exploring where individual autobiographical memory can become a site for collaborative, and collective mnemonic return.

    The dissertation contributes new knowledge to the field of contemporary photographic practice, proposing alternative readings and approaches to using the documentary image. This also includes new insights into the work of Dorothea Lange, as an iconic representative of this form of photographic work. It also outlines useful aesthetic, conceptual, and relational strategies for
    exploring the photograph as a site of mnemonic return in collaborative, community based contexts.
    Date of Award25 Sept 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMark Durden (Supervisor) & Helen Sear (Supervisor)


    • Fine Art Photography
    • Practice based research
    • Memory
    • Feminist Art
    • Contemporary Irish Art

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