Aesthetics or Truth
-- Artist statement
In “Aesthetics or Truth”, Tod Papageorge wrote about how photography’s transparent quality and the camera’s mimetic nature make most people look at photography diﬀerently from paintings, poetry, or films where fictional and subjective qualities are presumed. The lack of such presumptions when looking at photography make people easily fall into the trap of associating photography with truth. I fell into such trap a few years ago when I first discovered a large collection of old family photographs during a visit to my native country China. Having lived abroad for over twenty years, I held onto those photos as though they were the only tangible thing connecting me to my roots. Yet, the more I looked at them, the less reliable and satisfactory they became, and more photographic artifice began to surface. Since then, my projects have developed around this collection of personal family photographs in which I examine the nature of the photographic medium, particularly that of the personal and family photographs in relation to history, memory and records.
In “Remember Me Like This,” I reproduced selected family photographs taken during the Cultural Revolution, a socially and politically tumultuous period in China’s modern history, as starting point. I hand manipulated them using traditional pictorial art technique and materials. I chose photos taken during this particular time frame because of the striking discrepancies between what the photographs depict on the surface and the reality of the times. Images of youthful optimism and family felicity stood in sharp contrast to scarring memories of deprivation and feelings of bitterness evoked by these photos. The physical manipulations of photographs obscuring the boundary between photography and painting, the motif of dots obscuring the faces, make these family photos no longer about the individuals photographed, nor about the truth. They become symbols, archetypes, and photography’s poetic moment of truth rather than reality. They demand the viewers to see not with the presumptions of familiar family photographs but as constructed pictures, and provoke reflection on the question of what is it that we seek to fulfill in our personal and family photographic collection and memory.
Rachel Liu is originally from Qingdao, China, and now lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work examines the dichotomy between photography’s indexical and evidentiary nature, and its resistance and limitation to becoming trustworthy documents. Her ongoing projects utilize her own extensive family photo archive in an examination upon the nature of the photographic medium, and the function of the personal and family photographs in relation to memory and history. Rachel’s work has been featured on Photography of China, Fortune, LensCulture, and Ain’t Bad. She received her MFA degree in Photography in 2015. Selected grant and residencies include Vermont Studio Center, Kala Art Institute, and Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY.
More information: www.rachelliu.com