Reinterpreting a Family Photo Album

In his series, The Fourth Wall, Diego Ballestrasse isolates details and obscure poses from his old family photographs, exploring vernacular photography with new narratives and imagination.

© Diego Ballestrasse, from the series, The Fourth Wall

Argentinian photographer Diego Ballestrasse creates his visual diary, The Fourth Wall, by gathering cut outs from old family photographs and combines them to generate a new subtle vision of a family album. 

“It all started when I found a photograph of my grandfather Juan in a drawer of my house in Barcelona,” Ballestrasse said to PHM. “It was among the few family photos that I brought from Argentina. My granddad had his eyes closed, and this detail was a revelation; I wanted to know more about him, he died when I was a child, and I barely knew him. His presence was closer and more direct than everything my family has been able to tell me. So I began to observe paying attention to everything that surrounded him: the places, the distances between bodies, the interstices, the shadows, the emptiness. Then, I extended the research on the photographs of all my family environment.”

© Diego Ballestrasse, from the series, The Fourth Wall

The smallest hints are present in The Fourth Wall that help viewers understand when and where the original shot was taken. These clues leave questions like: what is a hand is striving for? What does it look like where the table continues and who’s in front of the lined partition wall? What and who’s missing from the frame?

Like an archaeologist who digs into images, Ballestrasse selects gestures from the family photographs, isolates details and the different gazes from larger pictures to develop a secondary narrative. He researches the story and imagines what must have happened; beyond the scratches, dust, and micro-textures of photographic paper. The result is a fascinating series where the focus isn’t on people’s faces, groups or traditional subjects but rather it is on small signs on the walls, margins, burned-by-flash zones generally out of the viewers attention.

© Diego Ballestrasse, from the series, The Fourth Wall

The Fourth Wall is an ongoing project. It is a collection that grows when Ballestrasse can get new pictures from his faraway family. “There is nothing special in these images; they are part of a traditional family album,” Ballestrasse said. His work shows birthday scenes from the sixties, weddings, military photos and vacations that display a family story starting from the beginning of the last century to when the author had his first childhood memories in the early eighties.

In the past, photographs were printed for private use, or screened for projections at home. Family albums seem to have almost disappeared from present day life. They had a short span of popularity of nearly hundred years. People don’t collect family photos as they used to. The meaning of images has totally changed, and a different mechanism is now taking root with a shorter life cycle: thousands of photographs are produced, consumed, just to be shared, then stored on hard disks or cloud systems -in the more optimistic cases- and trashed.

© Diego Ballestrasse, from the series, The Fourth Wall

Perhaps, as a reaction to the ongoing wave of digital images produced, enthusiasm in vernacular photography from the pre-digital era has increased in recent years proving a rich ground for both social historians and photographers who utilize found images in their practice. In continuity with the past events, The Fourth Wall approaches the family archive in the present, investigating and reframing the photographic object in a space that belongs to the past, giving the family relationship and its representation a renewed narrative and meaning.

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Diego Ballestrasse is an Argentinean photographer living in Barcelona. Through photography and video he investigates the temporalities of the image in relation to the mechanism of the photographic event.

Irene Opezzo is an Italian Photo Editor based in Los Angeles. She has been employed at several newspaper and magazines in the US and Italy, such as Vice News, Vogue and La Stampa. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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