Monday, September 1, 2014

Buena memoria: un ensayo fotográfico de Marcelo Brodsky

Buena memoria, Marcelo Brodsky 1997
Marcelo Brodsky’s Buena Memoria (1997)[87pp] “Good Memory” is a photographic essay focused around the 1967 graduation photograph from the Colegio Nacional in Buenos Aires.  The graduation photograph is enlarged and includes handwritten annotations that provide information about what happened to the children as they came of age in Argentina.  The notes inscribed on the photograph suggest that coming of age experience in Argentina cannot be taken for granted.  The futures of these children needed to be footnoted to describe the ways in which their futures departed from the typical experiences of growing up; these children became exiles, disappeared, wanted nothing to do with their peers, and developed psychological problems.  Brodsky includes recent pictures of the members of the graduation class as adults and includes them in Buena Memoria next to the original 1967 photograph.

The visual project was mounted as an exhibit over several days at the Colegio Nacional in Buenos Aires.  The book includes the images of the eighth grade class stopping to look and their faces reflected in the glass that protected the exhibit. According to Brodsky, these images of the students gazing at the 1967 class represent the process of the transmission of memory from one generation to the next.  The students of the 1990s who viewed the exhibit commented that the placement of the exhibit in the same space where they currently attended school helped them identify with the youth in the photograph:

When I saw that picture hung in the main hall of my beloved Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, my skin crawled.  Only after looking at it for a long while did I realize that I had sat at the same desks as those students, that I had spent recesses in the same halls, that I had studied in the same library.  (Federico, class of 1993)
Buena memoria, Marcelo Brodsky 1997.

Brodsky’s exhibit re-inscribes memory in the real space where the graduation picture was taken, in what Pierre Nora calls the milieux de memoire.  The milieu de memoire is an authentic anthropological memory space where identities are forged.  The students of today who identify with the Colegio Nacional can more readily relate to students from the past that shared the same identity.

The graduation photograph makes the repression of youth visible whereas it had otherwise been invisible to today’s youth.  Federico from the class of 1993 adds: “I had not understood that young people, adolescents, had also lived during that time…something inside me rejected the thought that fourteen, fifteen, and twenty year olds had had to endure such horrible situations.  I felt a great sadness.”

Buena Memoria also includes two sections in which the focus turns to Marcelo Brodksy’s best friend Martín and another section focused on this brother Fernando.  From a position in the future and knowing the fate of both of these boys, Marcelo Brodksy gives the reader eerie information such as identifying the last picture one of them would ever take.  These photographs provide a different experience of memory because they do not focus on the violence and repression that the children featured in Buena Memoria ultimately faced.  Instead, the viewer is confronted with images of their lives and the focus is in some ways even more horrifying.  

In sum, Brodsky’s Buena Memoria makes visible the lives that ended because of violent repression and the impact of the military dictatorship on one generation of Argentines.

WJT Mitchell — Notes on Picture Theory

In analyzing the “pictorial turn” in his book Picture Theory, Mitchell begins by raising important questions about how images reference t...