How did I first hear about Jennifer Greenburg? I don’t remember. But I’m so glad I did, because this photographer-teacher-super-woman always has a new, creative endeavor — one that richly explores the Retro — up her sleeve. Jennifer is assistant professor of photography and printmaking, Indiana University Northwest. Two years ago, we looked at her book, The Rockabillies, here and then, we interviewed her here. Now, she has a new series of works — Revising History — in which she takes old photo negatives collected over many years and puts herself into the image, replacing another person. Seen as a series… it’s Jennifer in a whole earlier life, another time, other places. But, it’s all so… seamless… you would never know these photos are… fantasies. But… maybe they always were?
Read on for my interview with Jennifer… and to see more of this fascinating series — all 16 photographs.
Revising History is a series of manufactured images that I have created by replacing the individuals in vintage found-negatives with images of myself. I commandeer source material from someone else’s life thus taking over their memories to call my own. There is something inherently false in a family snapshot. Every childhood appears, in images, as idyllic. Every family is depicted as loving and close knit. And often, when we look back at our own images, we co-opt the fantasy that the photograph has created for us. We replace our original memories with something photography has sold to us. It is with this in mind that I have created a body of counterfeit images that depict fictitious memories.
… Can you elaborate on how you even got to thinking about this whole subject, and how it led to the creation of this series of photographs?
Jennifer: I am a professor of photography and visual language. I have been researching and thinking about imagery for my entire adult life. I make imagery, I teach others how to make imagery, I look at imagery, I breathe imagery; It is a 24-hour, 365 day a year endeavor for me and has been for as long as I can remember. And I am especially fascinated by looking at images depicting the lives of people I will never know. I imagine the life the individual depicted in the image might live or have lived. I am seduced by the fantasy that the depiction creates for me. So that is how it all started, perhaps.
Pam: Your Statement sounds kind of ‘critical’ of the falseness of family photos. But… we love midcentury design and filling our houses with it, and I know you do, too! So, to what degree would you say we fans (short for ‘fanatics’) of midcentury culture and design are also experiencing something “inherently false”… a “co-opted fantasy”… recreating “counterfeit images that depict fictitious memories.” Not that I’m saying that’s a “bad” thing, but I’m always interested in probing the deeper reasons why certain people, myself included, are so fascinated in these old styles.
Jennifer: Would we really want to live in another time when life was actually much harder — especially for those of us who are women, minorities or both women and minorities? Most definitely no! My thought is that we are seduced by the fantasy presented by Hollywood movies, television and professional commercial photographs from the era. We wistfully interpret the past and leave out facts and the harsh realities. And I believe strongly that there is nothing wrong with fantasy. I can’t be transcended by a trip to a modern furniture store like Ethan Allen. There is nothing magical happening in there to hold my interest. I think many people feel the same way. And I am also going to feel depressed about our current disposable culture that provides us with nothing that has any quality or staying power. Mid Century Modern furniture demands respect. It’s quality!
Pam: Where did you find these photos? Did you have them already, or did you collect them for this project? Why did you choose the ones you chose?
Jennifer: I have been collecting found negatives for years. I look for ones that have a narrative I would like to address. I also look for successful compositions. That is the hardest part since most were not made by professionals. When I find one that is to my standards, I look at it very carefully. If a story emerges in my head, then I use it. But the narrative has to be there for me to craft an image.
Jennifer: I put myself in through the magic of technology. It is my body, my arms, my everything. That is all me. And yes, my husband is in the photos — his name is Casey Stockdon. That’s part of the project- that the photos are now about my life- so my husband has to be in there. I wouldn’t want another husband. : O )
Pam: Which two or three are you favorites, and why?
Jennifer: I really hate hierarchies! I reserve the right to not pick favorites in all instances because I sure do like changing my mind a lot! Hahah! But if I had to pick favorites, I would say the images where something that is just not part of my real experiences is taking place, like “Finishing School Graduation, 2011″ and “Me, modeling the latest fashions for Russek’s Department Store, 2012.”
Pam: Going through all these photos, I see a chronology — young woman at play, then married, then with children? Is it planned that way?
Jennifer: Not chronological necessarily. Just a fantasy life filled with normal things that are no longer normal. Who has the time for these things anymore? Who can afford them?
Pam: What’s next for the photos?
Jennifer: I will be having a solo show of Revising History at The Print Center Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 11-March 16th, 2013. The opening will be on January 17, 2013. I will also have a solo exhibition in the Pingyao International Photographic Festival in Shanxi, China September 19-23rd, 2012.
- See Revising History in even larger format on JenniferGreenburg.com.
- My first story on Jennifer’s book, The Rockabillies. More fantastic photos, of course!
- Followup interview with Jennifer on The Rockabilly Design Aesthetic. More photos — along with the best hypothesis yet on why we all love the retro so (we are “highly visual”).