Manipulated Vintage Photographs Blurring Reality and Memory

By altering stock family photographs Weronikca Gęsicka creates surreal and unsettling artworks that teeter on the edge of truth and fiction.

© Weronika Gęsicka, from the series, Traces

At a glance, this is a typical family scene many of us might find among our childhood memories: parents, living room, playing with toy blocks. What’s different from the image in our memory, however, is the thin border between truth and fiction. We are looking at a stock photo and we can't be completely sure whether it represents the real world or a world that was created from scratch.

The photograph is from my series, Traces, which deals with various aspects of memory - how a photograph helps to save the past, but at the same time how it can manipulate it. The work is also an attempt to reflect on what photographs that come without any descriptions can tell us about the past, and whether we are able to understand these photographs at all.

Like all of the works in the series, the original image comes from a photo bank. The images I used are mostly from American archives of the 1950s and 1960s - family scenes, holiday souvenir snapshots, scenes from everyday life, and so on. The project is a kind of ‘family album’ composed of stock photos. Every image speaks in some way about the mechanisms of memory, turning seemingly unrelated works into one story.

Once I had the idea for the series, I started looking for pictures that looked like family photos on different stock photo websites. I searched for them using keywords such as ‘family’, ‘children’, ‘leisure’, and ‘holidays’. During one search, I came across a family playing with Lego and I knew straightaway that the photo would be in the project.

The most intriguing thing about the image is that it is a universal scene, one that could work in most homes. The question of whether models were hired and an entire scenography built to recreate such an everyday scene is therefore even more puzzling.

Working on the photograph consists of choosing one element and building a whole story around it. In this case, the element was playing with Lego—a childhood memory that arouses many associations, which, this time, were used not to build, but to ‘destroy’.

Introducing a bit of surrealism has made this photograph closer to what a memory truly is: not a real reflection of a situation but a mixture of what really happened and what others have told us.

Photography interests me on many levels. My projects include both works based on archival photos and photographs made by me. I am also interested in press photography, criminal photos, and amateur images found on the internet. These interests are mainly focused on themes relating to memory, memorisation and forgetting mechanisms, or memory disorders. For me, photography and memory are inextricably linked, and most of my work focuses on exploring these connections.

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Weronika Gęsicka is a Polish photographer working on series about memory and its mechanisms. Her exhibition, Stopy / Traces runs from 28 July to 3 September 2017 at Fotografic Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic

Gemma Padley is a freelance writer and editor on photography, based in the UK.

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