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Familie werden (Becoming a Family)

(Re)construction of intimate and personal through self-portraits: »Familie werden« (“Becoming a Family”). Using old, found photographs of ten families ― five from Germany and five from Japan ― I humorously recreated the past, simultaneously as photographer and model. In order to reconstruct one or two photographs from each family, I searched for clothes and objects that looked as similar as possible to the ones in the original photographs. At times, I handmade the costumes and props myself. I shot the photos ― playing each role myself ― in studios, in similar-looking locations, and sometimes even in the exact location as in the original photographs. Oddly enough, standing in front of the camera in similar-looking clothes, makeup, and hairstyles, I felt as if I were experiencing the same settings as the moment that the original photographs were taken.

Foundations of a family are made up of stories built upon memories. Moreover, the notion of a family is historically and culturally universal. Thus, family photographs of even complete strangers reflect the viewer’s own experiences and memories and evoke nostalgia and empathy. Family photos taken in a photo studio, snap shots taken by a family member with a compact camera, and other photos featuring not only family members but a variety of people including relatives, friends, classmates and colleagues, are carefully mounted on the pages of family albums. As Roland Barthes stated, family albums tell a different story than the one that actually “has been”; they serve as a visualization of the relationship between relatives and family members. Sometimes, the stories are rearranged and replaced with better memories. Every time we look through a photo album, we are reaffirming the existence of our family in a staged documentary-type story.

Today, photography has become an individual act and family photos are seldom collected in a family album. Photographic interests have shifted to oneself and photographs of daily life. However, we must continue taking family photos. Photographs strengthen the continuity and alliance of the family as a group, firmly establishing it with the help of a visual image. The act of taking a photograph together is a way to reconfirm and reinforce the family bond. It may be only a pretense of a family. But perhaps the family becomes a family through being photographed. The photographs are a proof of our existence. I slink into their stories in order to become part of the family. The stories of these families weave in and out of memory and oblivion, fiction and reality. This project brings back to life these family photographs, which once had been left behind.

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