‘Ipseity’ (from Latin: ‘ipse’ self) is the title of Anthony Prothero’s exhibition that recently took place at the Four Corners Gallery as a culmination of his master’s studies.
It is an intimate exploration of the family photograph and its fascinating connection with memory, time and the personal archive. The human need of preserving - and understanding - the past is highlighted here with a curated selection of family snapshots, photographs, a moving image piece and a recorded conversation between the photographer and his grandmother whose memories are at the core of his investigation.
Following the ancient technique of the ‘arts of memories’, he traces the roots of his identity by recollecting his grandmother’s memoirs, interlinking them to the geographical map of the ‘Holy Land’ where his family went on pilgrimage every year. Gathering different sources, he reconstructs a past he has never lived but that has undoubtedly shaped his present.
While walking around the room, it is almost impossible to not think that - independently from its referent - a photograph always reminds us of death; images depicting Anthony’s family are framed and curated through-out the room and I naturally relate to each single frame: my grandmother used to wear a similar dress while picking flowers in the garden, my grandfather used to take pictures on vacation. I am then reminded of Fiona Tan’s installation ‘Vox Populi’, a set of framed vernacular images taken from various families and curated according to their content. ‘Vox Populi’ enhances the similarities of the family photo album by grouping the images in common subsets.
I indulge on a portrait of three women on the beach, the horizon almost equally splits the image in two halves. I am intrigued by the girl turning her back to the photographer, she seems bored by the camera. As I wonder who she is, I am also aware the photograph itself will never fully disclose this information, it is a message without a code1.
'The cabinet of curiosities’ piece that is carefully positioned in the middle of the main room consists of an enlarged photograph of the peculiar collection of objects that sparked Prothero’s fascination. Objects of any nature can be found under the thin glass such as binoculars, hair brushes and odd silverware. Not casually, ‘the cabinet of curiosities’ image is placed inside a glass cabinet reminding us the material quality of the photograph and resembling the way the objects were originally curated and displayed by the collector.
A framed portrait lies in the left corner of the gallery echoing the materiality of the image once again while in the opposite corner we find an inviting pink armchair and a pair of headphones. The recorded audio piece is a conversation between the artist and his grandmother about a found photograph of Father John Hooper, an Anglo-Catholic priest who played a key role in Prothero’s grandparents lives.
The following still life photographs portray a set of silverware conserved by Sue - Anthony’s grandmother - with the intent of passing it on to him after her death. This photographs aesthetically differ from the rest of the exhibition as the use of the flash and the conscious choice of a consistent white background disclose the photographer’s identity. Prothero’s immediacy in photographing these objects is driven by a need of preserving the present that is instantly becoming past.
The video piece entitled ‘Sue & David’s Wedding Video, 1966/2019’ is projected in a separate darker room. The VHS cassette has been digitally edited by the artist according to his grandmother’s reactions while watching the original video: every frame she admitted she had forgotten has been taken out and replaced with a single white frame emphasising the use of the personal archive as a prothesis of memory.
The limited edition book comes in a archival envelope recalling the key themes of the exhibition and it includes personal reflections of the artist, a transcript of the audio piece and a postcard of the map of Israel as seen by Prothero in his grandfather’s diary.
Despite the intimate nature of the work, the viewer is guided by the nostalgic aura of the vernacular photographs presented; as the resemblances of the Western photo album come to the surface,Ipseity has the power to engage any spectator.
1 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida