Iris Brember’s Rememberings of Prints-by-Post

Iris Brember, Untitled, 2012. From the series “Photographs”. Copyright Iris Brember. Courtesy of the artist

The advance digital has done away with many of the traits and quirks of analogue photography: the smell of a freshly developed batch of pics, the jazzy colours of the folder, and the constant anxiety of a light-leak ruining your holiday shots. It’s something London-based photographer Iris Brember is working to preserve and not to forget. After graduating last year she was chosen as one of the finalists of The Photographers’ Gallery’s graduate competition, “Fresh Faced + Wild Eyed 2013”, with the series “Photographs”. Here, Brember talks about the work, the importance of the family album, and why we remember photographs and the memories they carry. 

Sleek: How did the project start? 
Iris Brember: In 2011 I inherited a lot of family photographs that belonged to my grandfather. It was a giant collection, just boxes and boxes of photographs, and I started to go through them all, not really considering that anything would come from that. I’ve always been fascinated with snapshot photography as a genre, looking at day-to-day usage, and I was also in a strange position, because I had all of these photographs that were very important and meant something to me as they were family photos, but at the same time I didn’t know the subjects or the context of any image. They were very private in that sense. After that, I decided to focus less on the photographic prints themselves, and more on the objects – looking at the descriptions, the written accompaniments, the packaging.

Do you see the project as an archive of the objects rather than a documentary of analogue photography?
In some ways it’s both an archive and the opposite of an archive, in that it provides a level of information but does not show the actual images. I had inherited all of these photographs that had lost their original purpose, so in a slightly abstract way, the project became more about photography itself and the details, rather than about actual people or stories. You clearly know these objects intimately, and while you might not know the exact story behind each one, they’re all highly personal.

Do you think the series can be successful without the audience having a personal relationship to the photos?
That was really my biggest aim for the entire project. To create something that was not only biographical of my family, but instead to create something that could be interpreted in many different ways.

Was it important for you to create a feeling of nostalgia?
The feeling of nostalgia was not a decision that I made. I think all photographs offer an opportunity to look back and remember, and with the development of this project I spent a lot of time doing this. The images have a general feeling of nostalgia surrounding them, and therefore it was not something that I specifically created. Writing on the back of a photograph folder is a thing of the past. 

Iris Brember, Untitled, 2012. From the series “Photographs”. Copyright Iris Brember. Courtesy of the artist

Did that transition play a role in the work?
It definitely did. I am very aware that with these objects I want to keep them and I want to pass them down. Which is another reason why I wanted to photograph the intimate details, because they will become a thing of the past. The names and the places won’t mean anything one day. It’s definitely something that is very much at the forefront of the work now.

Do you think there’s a difference to how we display and view photographs now, compared to years gone by?
Absolutely. I looked at the relationship between some of my family members and their possessions and photographs, and noticed that as people got older, they surrounded themselves more with photographs, in frames or albums. So, having photographs in this way, as physical objects was very important, and is perhaps not going to occur so much anymore with the progress of digital photography. 

So no more family albums?
Probably not. I just think it is really sad that one day the family album as we know it will be gone. It will just be a memory stick or something horrible. I can see it now: someone on their deathbed handing over a memory stick full of their life stories. To me it isn’t romantic, and I think that this body of work has an element of romance attached to it. It’s better that way.

Interview by Amy Binding
Taken from Sleek 39 “Future Perfect”

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