Tag Archives: Elders

Displaced History and the Art of Collective Memory

Somewhere in Switzerland there’s a municipal archive, the collective memory of a town, with negatives and newspapers and postcards and photographs that tell the story of the area from 1880–1940. It’s the collective paper memory of the place, including a picture of four children who might not have grown into respected elders, a picture of a priest who may have performed important rituals in the town, a picture of a young woman whose face you might recognize—if the town’s memories are your own.

On the other hand, for photographer Nicolas Dhervillers, who spent only six months residing in Sion, the people in those images were more like characters in a play he would write. Acting the parts to which the photographer assigned them, they appear throughout a series called My Sentimental Archives which will be exhibited at Galérie Bacqueville in Lille, France through Nov. 20. In a meditation on appropriation, each photograph is a two-in-one. Dhervillers’ landscape photography from the area was subjected to a digital process adapted from the cinematic “day for night” technique, lending an eerie look to pictures taken in broad daylight; the archival figures are placed within those landscapes and washed with the unnatural digital light.

“It was very important to find a technique that gives an impression of being ‘outside time,’” Dhervillers told TIME in an email. “Thus, it’s not about a simple photograph but rather a photograph that mixes different mediums that I particularly like: theater for the positions and attitudes of the characters, movies for the light, photography for the idea of controlling the framework, painting for the final rendering.”

Each figure from the archives—small, dusty, black and white people—has been carefully restored by Dhervillers. And, in the process of restoration, the photographer says he felt that the images raised a spiritual question: can we create a present, a now, out of the scraps of the past? “The appropriation of the collective memory, of photographic memory, overlaps with the desire to question a picture in a larger sense,” he said. “This series takes us into a fictional space outside of time, through the photographic processing.”

Dhervillers has worked with appropriated figures before; his series Tourists uses images taken from the internet. But in this case, in the end, his questions about photographic appropriation took on another dimension: the archives from which Dhervillers took the figures did, in a way, become “his.” Even if he didn’t share the town’s history, he felt he knew its inhabitants well. “I spent a lot of time with these little characters,” he said. “I raised them, I colorized them, I gave them life.”

This interview has been translated from French.


Nicolas Dhervillers is a Paris-based photographer represented by School Gallery/Olivier Castaing in Paris.

Ellen Wallenstein

New York photographer, Ellen Wallenstein‘s ideas and interests navigate in and out of all sorts of interesting arenas, and maybe that is just part of being a New Yorker where inspiration is never an issue.  Her bodies of work reflect a broad range of approaches and subjects from projects such as Dead Men from New Fairfield, CT, Ellis Island Self Portraits, Pocketbook of Drag Queens, and the project I am featuring today, Respecting My Elders. Ellen is an engaged photographer, teaching photography and book arts at School of Visual Arts and Pratt and writes articles and book reviews for PDNedu and Fraction magazines. She received  a B.A. in art history from SUNY Stony Brook and an M.F.A. in photography from Pratt Institute and was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize in 2011.

Her project, Respecting My Elders, Ellen was supported by UnitedStatesArtists.org, a “micro-philanthropy” which supports artists projects across the country. She raised funds for an upcoming website and a first catalogue of (26) portraits of creative elders, which should be in print by the end of the year. She will be giving a public talk on her portraits at the Center for Alternative Photography/Penumbra Foundation  in NYC, on October 23rd. (It will be streamed live, as well)

Respecting My Elders:
I most often work on long-term documentary projects that mesh into the fabric of
my daily life. For the last few years I’ve been making portraits of older people in
their environments.”

Respecting My Elders” is a collection of color portraits of creative individuals over the age of eighty, photographed in their homes and studios. They are artists and intellectuals born at the turn of the last century, whose wisdom and insight are important to our nation.

Editta Sherman, b. 1912 photographer, nyc 2009

Known as The Greatest Generation, and coming of age between the two World Wars, the effect of their contributions upon future generations is evident in their productions. These include books, poems, paintings, photographs, plays and performances, as well as important breakthroughs in education, philanthropy and the sciences. I believe these persons deserve to be celebrated: my photographs are meant to capture their spirit and beauty, and to inspire admiration by future generations.
A. R. Gurney, b. 1930, playwright, roxbury, ct 2010
The photography sessions become collaborations between my sitters, many of who pose with objects of significance, and myself. I work alone, with a handheld camera in natural light. 
David Vestal, b. 1924, photographer, bethlehem, ct 2008

This endeavor builds upon a previous project, “Opus for Anne,” which documented three years of weekly visits to an elderly Hospice patient who became a close friend. After she died I felt inspired to contact others of her generation who had influenced me artistically and intellectually.

Dr. Billy Taylor, b.1921, jazz musician-educator, riverdale, ny 2009

I began in a “sixdegrees- of-separation” manner, starting with my mother and her circle, asking friends and colleagues for suggestions and introductions, as well as contacting strangers I was interested in meeting. This led me to some fascinating people who in turn recommended me to their friends and colleagues.

Edward Albee,b. 1928, playwright, NYC 2010
I’ve been taking these portraits slowly but steadily, as I continue my teaching. I feel that this project is going to be my life’s work.

Francine du Plessix Gray, b. 1930, writer, warren, ct 2010

James Earl Jones, b. 1931,actor, nyc 2012
Joan Copeland, b. 1922, actress, nyc 2010
Milton Glaser, b. 1929, graphic designer, nyc 2009

Ned Rorem, b. 1923, composer/writer, nyc 2010

Richard Howard, b. 1929, poet, nyc 2010
Romulus Linney, b. 1930, playwright, nyc 2010

Rosalind Soloman,b. 1930, photographer, nyc 2011

Will Barnet, b. 1911, painter, nyc 2010

Wolf Kahn,b. 1927, painter, nyc 2010