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Princeton Architectural Press
From Publishers Weekly
Do photographs replace memory? Or do they enhance it, allowing us to remember moments that would otherwise fade away? These are two of the questions posed by this short-but-sweet "meditation" on the various manifestations of photography as a mnemonic device. The book, which accompanies an exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, features 80 color illustrations of a range of photography-art objects, including lockets, photo "jewelry" and even photo-furniture. By and large, the pieces are touching bulwarks against mortality. As Batchen explains, "these otherwise humble portraits declare ‘do not forget me’ with as much intensity of purpose as any pharaoh’s tomb, a declaration made all the more poignant by the anonymity to which most of these sitters have been consigned." But in many cases, the objects themselves are far from humble: rather, they are breathtaking manifestations of the ingenuity inspired by the effort to keep memories alive. Flat images made three-dimensional through elaborate framing take on a mystery and power akin to that of Cornell box. Locks of hair are the least of it; some of the photo-sculptures include spiky bullet frames, elaborate flower arrangements, tiny canoe paddles and even deer legs (presumably belonging to the deer in the photo). A series of Indian portraits, in which only the photographed face is left visible behind beautifully painted clothes and exteriors, are a compelling amalgamation of "old" expression and "new" technology. While the compact size of the volume is evidently meant to evoke the intimacy of its subject, the images are in some cases so intricate that one wishes they were slightly larger, but otherwise the reproductions are of impressively high-quality, accompanied by a thoughtful and questioning text.
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About the Author
Geoffrey Batchen teaches the history of photography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Since its invention, photography has always been inextricably tied up with remembrance: photographers recall family, beloved friends, special moments, trips and other events, speaking across time and place to create an emotional bond between subject and viewer. Forget Me Not focuses on this relationship between photography and memory, and explores the curious and centuries-old practice of strengthening the emotional appeal of photographs by embellishing them -- with text, paint, frames, embroidery, fabric, string, hair, flowers, bullets, cigar wrappers, butterfly wings, and more -- to create strange and often beautiful hybrid objects. This spellbinding book features color photographs of eighty such objects, extraordinary works of art -- part memento, part Joseph Cornell -- created by ordinary people from the mid-19th century to mid-20th century. In addition, Forget Me Not offers an alternative way to look at the history of photography, a history that effectively excludes most of the photographs -- candid views, family snapshots, and the like -- taken since the invention of the camera. Noted photography historian Geoffrey Batchen adopts a different tone in this original and engaging book -- a personal and speculative voice that speaks to the objects rather than about them while offering a visual treasure chest of both mysterious and beautiful images. Forget Me Not is published with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and accompanies an exhibition of the same name that opens at the Museum in March 2004.