Figments of Memories
People and Places of Dobrogea – an Exploration of the Common Self
“Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has traveled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being? I cannot tell. And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine.” (Proust, 2015:621)
Fig. 1: Tusa 2022. Figments of Memories.Cetatea Village
Growing up in Romania’s region of Dobrogea, I’ve been left with strong impressions of the quotidian life of the local people – their gestures, the lights, the earthy smells, like Proust’s Madeleine1.
My photographic project traces the subjective contours of these childhood memories and seeks to impart to my audience the deeply-held emotions that surface whenever I journey back to my roots.
1Proust’s Madeleine, an expression used to describe smells, tastes, sounds, or any sensations reminding you of your childhood or simply bringing back emotional memories from a long time ago.
About the Project
Dobrogea is a melting pot of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition. Lying between the Danube River and the Black Sea, Dobrogea has a turmoiled history. Successive waves of Turks, Tatars, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Jewish, and Russians intermingle in its history.
I grew up accompanying my grandfather to get together with his friends for Saturday morning’s coffee. He came to Romania – Dobrogea in 1919 from Constantinople.
Like my own family, my grandfather’s friends were also brought to Dobrogea by the historical events that took place in the Balkans and Anatolia at the beginning of the 20th century (Djuvara, 2014:288-291).
Fig. 4: Tusa 2022. Figments of Memories
My childhood memories became more immaterial after the death of my grandparents’ generation, when almost nothing of that past still subsisted. Still, regardless of the passing of time and the fading of concrete memories, the emotion remained. Even though I did not experience what these people did firsthand, their collective unconscious remained within me, informing my artistic approach.
When I immortalize quotidian scenes with Polaroids, it’s as if my childhood memories are manifesting themselves before my eyes – a snapshot of the present, but with a faded, nostalgic quality. The details of time and place are not in the pictures but supplied from elsewhere- from a store of childhood memories that might be anybody’s (Kuhn, 1991:395). The Polaroid film’s imperfect and unpredictable qualities are best suited to unveiling them.
To me, the Polaroids can showcase the sense of “known” I feel when I go to Dobrogea. They evoke the same emotions that I felt when listening to my grandfather talk to his friends – they make me recall the fervor in their voices and demeanors. These feelings represent the “collective unconscious” 2, the “unknown known” buried so deep, not just in my mind but also “passed on in our DNA from generation to generation” (Jung, 2003:13).
2 According to Carl Jung, the part of the unconscious that is common to all humankind and contains the inherited accumulation of primitive human experiences in the form of ideas and images called archetypes and manifested in myths as well as other cultural phenomena (e.g., religion) and in dreams. It is the deepest and least accessible part of the unconscious mind.
Images can express our feelings either by poetical or descriptive means (Tarkovsky, 1983). I am influenced in my work by the stillness and poetic approach used by Tarkovsky in his films, such as Stalker and his Polaroid series.
My objective is to create a body of work that captures the impressions of my childhood memories that surface when I travel to Dobrogea.
I want to awaken the nostalgic sentiment that lies within all of us, even if the shape of the memory is not the same.
What underpins this project is the idea of the collective unconscious, generating themes of endurance, troubling history, and perseverant inner child.
Paraphrasing Susan Sontag – the photographs allow me to be a part of a world’s vulnerability, mortality, and mutability and testify to time’s relentless melt (Sontag, 2001:10).
In achieving my project’s objective, I will produce three genres of photography: landscape, portraits, and self-portraits. My landscape photos will combine geography, autobiography, and metaphor to emphasize the complex stories associated with the project (Adams 1996:14). The portraits show subjects in their natural environment – depending on the context, they will either be candid or formal. The self-portraits are used as a means to connect my memories3 with the geographic and cultural space.
3“The early childhood memories are projective techniques that contribute to strengthening my self-identity.” (Adler 2010:117)
There are a few recurring themes across my body of work.
There are memories, ever-present and informing our everyday choices, and yet tantalizingly out of reach, warped by time spent away from them –
There is childhood, and the attachment we all feel towards our formative years and the nostalgia associated with its loss –
And then there is the collective unconscious, the culmination of two.
The unsettling feelings we have when something is familiar yet far away, the sense of known unknown – it takes a different shape for everyone. For me, it is represented by Dobrogea.
“Memories may be screens behind which the forgotten elements of the experience are hidden; thus, they cannot be considered childhood memories but memories about childhood.” (Freud, 2014:425)
There are two main concerns associated with this project – audience and ethical.
•As regards the audience, there is always an awareness that the theme can be challenging. As such, it raises concerns that it may not be compelling enough to be spoken of or related to. Furthermore, it’s of the essence that the project does not give off the impression that it constitutes discourse relating to poverty, nor should it amount to historical documentation. Therefore, the main question is – how do I convey the complex emotions associated with my subjective experience in a way that the work will speak for itself and invoke the same feelings in my audience?
•The ethical issues are also a factor. Children may be the subjects of my portraits, and in the context of the local culture, it may be challenging to obtain from their parents as legal representatives a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous consent (Art.7 GDPR, 2016).
Looking ahead – Collaboration and Professional Development
My aim is to progress in the professional practice by strengthening my knowledge about, and the collaboration with, different stakeholders relevant for my work.
In this regard, I will connect closer to the communities I have collaborated with so far. I will travel to a selection of Dobrogea’s villages, where the people have previously allowed me to take their photos and some of them even invited me to live alongside in their homes4.
I am particularly careful in bringing in the views and perspectives of the individuals who freely contribute their images to my project, especially children (Warrington & Crombie, 2017). I plan to share the taken pictures and ask my contributors for their input in altering some of the photos with drawings or collages.
4Similar to Ou Menya, 2012, Bieke Depoorter, published by Lannoo Publishers
I will establish connections with different ethnic and cultural organizations that have the potential to facilitate my connection to audiences and markets. Among them are the Yunus Emre Institute, Ovidius University of Constanta, Tatars Associations in Romania, Dobrogea Cultural Association as well as mayors and local councils. Some initial conversations are very promising – for example, the Yunus Emre Institute has expressed interest to organize an exhibition of my works.
How to best connect with my audiences will be at the center of my collaboration with these stakeholders. This is of particular importance since the concept of my photographic work is not about documenting historical or ethnic aspects of the communities or capturing concrete things, people or situations. It is about reflecting my state of mind modeled by the emotions from my childhood memories.
Looking ahead – Informing Context
Deepening my visual culture and developing an informed contemporary practice will allow me to better reflect on the nature of my images and their contextualization. Regarding the techniques I plan to continue developing my skillset with different Polaroid techniques (cyanotypes, colour injection or experimental painting – to name a few).
To this end I will use a three-leg approach, namely to practice, understand and evaluate visual material. I will then have the necessary tools to critically revisit my work and underpin it in a more formal theoretical background.
Firstly, I will continue to photoshoot in the villages of Dobrogea, working with portraits and landscapes that evoke impressions which are thematically linked to my project.
In addition, I’ve begun experimenting with self-portraits to capture myself in the midst of this experience and evoke my childhood self, as well as the memories that drive this project. I plan to integrate people’s stories and art into my work and strive to represent a collective memory of the space. In this sense I am inspired by Carolyn Drake, Wild Pigeon (2013) and Rehab Eldalil, The Longing of The Stranger Whose Path Has Been Broken (2018).
Secondly, to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the philosophical and psychological elements associated with the project, I plan to study several books and relevant artists5, for example, Charif Benhelima or Michael Iwanowski.
Thirdly, as my portfolio grows, I will request feedback from my peers and collaborators.
5Appendix 1 – Further Reading References
Looking ahead – Sustainable Strategies
6“It’s about using traditional methods but within a modern context.” Inge Jacobsen.
±Travel and photograph the villages from Dobrogea – ongoing.
±Connecting with the community – advanced.
±Experiment with new polaroid techniques – upcoming.
±Photo editing – ongoing.
±Studying the materials in Appendix 1, Further Reading References – ongoing.
±Critical study of other photographic works and inferring inspiration from practitioners – ongoing.
±Establish connections with different ethnic and cultural organizations – ongoing.
±Connecting with audiences and practitioners through social media marketing – ongoing.
Figure 1 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories.Cetatea Village
Figure 2 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 3 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 4 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 5 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 6 : Andrei TARKOVSKY. 1979-1984. Instant Light. Available at: https://happymag.tv/a-recently-discovered-cache-of-andrei-tarkovskys-personal-polaroids-will-leave-you-spellbound/
Figure 7 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories. Fantana Village
Figure 8 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 9 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 10 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 11 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 12 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories. Lespezi Village
Figure 13 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories. Dobromir VIllage
Figure 14 : Bieke DEPOORTER.2012. Ou Menya. Available at: https://biekedepoorter.com/works/ou-menya/overlay/works/ou-menya/images
Figure 15 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 16 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 17 : Charif BENHELIMA.2005. Black Out. Available at: http://www.benhelima.com/works/blackout/
Figure 18 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 19 : Rehab ELDALIL.2018. The Longing Of The Stranger Whose Path Has Been Broken. Available at: https://www.rehabeldalil.com/the-longing
Figure 20 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
Figure 21 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories Figure 22 : Iris Maria TUSA.2022. Figments of Memories
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WARRINGTON, Siobhan and CROMBIE, Jess. 2017. The People in the Pictures: Vital perspectives on Save the Children’s image making. Available at: https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/document/people-pictures-vital-perspectives-save-childrens-image-making/ [Accessed 13 August 2022]