In my work as an artist I spend hours each week looking through digital photographs I have found on the internet, slides found in online auctions, and gelatin silver prints found in my family’s shoeboxes. I see each photograph as a sort of memory object–a prosthetic device that captures and preserves an ephemeral moment in a tangible form constructed of dye and paper or ones and zeros. These rigid and enduring objects stand in direct contrast to the living and malleable memories recorded and reconsolidated in our bodies. By bringing these objects into the digital space, I can edit and reconfigure these frozen moments and introduce aberrations and deletions that complicate how we understand these memories.
One example of this type of intervention is Reimaging Erica, a year-long Instagram project I am currently working on. In this project, I use deletion to make visible the everyday erasures that happen when our bodies overlap in the snapshots we take with our friends and family. For this project I chose to reconstruct the photographic archive of Erica Bentley, a woman I found in the Creative Commons of Flickr who is both a wife and a mother. Each of my posts includes all of the images originally posted to the Bentley family’s Flickr feed on that day over multiple years. I digitally edit each of these images to isolate Erica’s body, erasing her husband, children, friends and even people in the background of the places she visits. In over nine hundred images we see Erica’s body as it relates to the people in her life. In some images she is alone and her body is whole and in other images the bodies of her children and husband overlap her body, creating gaping holes and amputated limbs. As the series progresses over one year we experience her life in parallel with our own–pictures of the beach are posted in July and August–but time is also compacted as we see both the birth and subsequent birthdays of her children posted on the same day in October.
This series asks questions about the invisible erasure that is inherent in the two-dimensional plane of a photograph. What does it mean to cede pieces of our bodies to the people we love? Which body pieces are missing from the communal public memory, and are there populations or groups that are more absent than others? If we study these absences over time, how do they change as our relationships change?
I have included some images from the Reimaging Erica project as a way to continue the conversation visually. You can also follow the project at www.instagram.com/reimagingerica. All photographs are by Michael Bentley and are available under the CC BY 2.0 license.