Contemporary ArtPhotographyJewish Culture & IdeasJewish History

Face(t)s of Memory: Found Photographs and Family Albums

Nov 14, 2001–Jan 31, 2002

Face(t)s of Memory: Found Photographs and Family Albums presents a twofold look at the enduring power of the personal photograph. Using both historical images and contemporary artists' interpretations, the exhibition explores and challenges the way that family albums and snapshots can preserve fragments of memory and speak to us across generations.

about the exhibition

Whether lovingly preserved in family albums or stumbled upon in archives, everyday photographs—the family gathering, the simple snapshot, the travel souvenir, the group picture, the school photo—are instantly recognizable and comfortably familiar. Even when individual faces are unknown to us, they seem to stand in for our own loved ones, friendships, experiences: their very form makes them a shared memory. But on deeper inspection, family photographs, even our own, can be mysterious or even unsettling. Who were those smiling people, really—and can we ever know? Why was that moment recorded? Will our memory of the photograph inevitably replace our memory of the person?

These questions are relevant in every culture that has embraced the photograph as a cherished vessel of memory, and are particularly poignant in Jewish life during the age of photography: in the last 150 years Jewish families and communities, dispersed across continents, removed from traditions, assimilated into national cultures or severed from one another, have looked to the photograph for some memory of themselves. The answers that the everyday photograph can provide—and the questions it still leaves behind—are a continuing source of wonder and puzzlement for the contemporary viewer, and rich material for artists as well.

In the first gallery, we present a selection of family albums, historic photographs and personal memorabilia from Judah L. Magnes Museum (now The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life)'s extensive collections. In the second gallery are works by international contemporary artists Christian Boltanski and Marcelo Brodsky, who used found photographs and family albums as the centerpiece for their meditations on the way photographs memorialize past lives.

about Christian Boltanski

Christian Boltanski remains one of France's best-known post-war artists. Born in 1944, he began making paintings at the age of twelve. During the turbulent years between 1968 and 1972, he began exhibiting a variety of projects, ranging from film and sculpture works to mail art and performance events. Boltanski came to prominence with exhibitions in such prestigious venues as the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. In 1989 he exhibited at the Berkeley Art Museum in Berkeley, California; his work has also been shown at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, Dessau Kunsthalle, Dessau, Germany, and Ujaztowski Castel Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland. He lives and works in Paris.

about Marcelo Brodsky

Marcelo Brodsky was born in Argentina in 1953, and began taking pictures in the early '80s in Barcelona, Spain, where he was in exile. He has exhibited in Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, New York, Santiago, Madrid, Rome, Brussels and Rotterdam, and his work is featured in the collection of the Biblioteque Nationale, Paris. His publications include a book of his poetry, entitled Parable, published in Barcelona in 1982; Buena Memoria (Buenos Aires, Lamarca, 1997), a photographic essay about the disappeared in Argentina, centered on the missing in his high school class; and the photo-essay and book, Nexo, released in Argentina in November 2001. He is one of the curators of the book project BLINK, 10 Curators, 100 Photographers, published by Phaidon Press, London.

Image Credit

Header image: Marcelo Brodsky: Buena Memoria. 1er Año, 6ta Division, 1967, 1996; Digital Print/Altered Gigantograph. Courtesy of the Artist.