Jennifer Greenburg’s time travel photos, “Revising History” — a Q&A and 16 photos

jennifer greenburg revisin history something funny happened in the kitchen

jennifer greenburg
Jennifer, circa 2010

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.

jennifer greenburg ping pongspring league openerthe league night i broke 200Pam: Your artistic Statement is so intriguing:

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.

 gifts for the bridejennifer greenburg wedding

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!

 our vacation to niagara fallsthat christmas

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.
our favorite restaurantjennifer greenburg family portrait day
Pam: How did you get yourself in the photos? Is that ALL YOU. Or your head on another body or… what? And is that your husband with you in some of the photos?

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  )

jennifer greenburg finishing schoolme modeling the latest fashions for russeks department store

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.”

when he was a babythe watermelons were huge that summer

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?

first haircut

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.
This whole series is really wonderful, Jennifer. I spend so much of my time thinking about the same spaces that you are now magically a part of … so this can’t help but be touching. Yes, it seems like those were “so much simpler” times… although, we know the ugly complexities were there, too. Maybe we can work toward having the best of both??? Thank you for letting me share your photos and your ideas with so many others.
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  1. Ann-Marie Meyers says:

    I have been giving a lot of thought to why I, personally have been trying to recreate a feeling of a time in my life when I was intensely unhappy, and had no direction, no friends, and thought I had no future. Especially now, at a time in my life when the same things are true again.
    The only idea I can come up with is, there was more color in my life then than now. I may have been just as unhappy, but my clothes were full of bright flowers, houses were decorated in sunny colors, as opposed to now, when despite OUR best efforts, those around us still want things to be greige.

  2. gsciencechick says:

    The Rib Pit one is also my favorite. It looks like a fabulous date night.

    They’re all wonderful, Jennifer, and as a fellow academic, I really appreciate your hard work!

  3. nina462 says:

    Our family has suscribed to Reminisce for many years now- we just love it.
    I also found that my local library has a lot of old pictures on file (actually on a file anyone can look at online). They are fab & tell the story of my surburban life.

  4. René Mowry says:

    It’s your blonde hair that makes these even more wonderful for me (and even your uh, full… figure.) I was born in 1948, and my mother died when she was just 34, in 1962. She was a hair dresser and was always changing her hair colors and styles. I have so many boxes of pictures just like these black & whites, and you could be she or vice-versa. She had that same sassiness and great smile. She was the center of any photo – you never forgot her, either. You are so very talented. Thank you for sharing your love for this genre. (Is it OK to term it a “genre” now?)

  5. Joe Felice says:

    Look how happy everybody was! Makes me feel sorry for us! Post WWII were the best of times for our country. I believe that’s why we honor it by trying to re-create, and certainly NEVER forget it!

  6. Trouble says:

    Trying to contemplate my life in the early – mid ’50s is difficult, bc it WOULD be a different life. It’s like trying to imagine what’s beyond the universe. That’s why I focus on restoration and bring things back as closely as I can, with little to no modern influence (which drives people crazy, but….thaaaat’s restoration!)
    You can tell the people are authentic, bc, for some reason, people then don’t look like people now. Her husband is pretty damn close, tho’. As much as I wish I had “the look”….I look out of place.
    Take a look at a yearbook from the 1940s. then the late ’80s. Regardless of the styles of hair, glasses, clothes….people from that time just look…..different. Young, but older at the same time.
    Wish I had the true look…..

  7. Trouble says:

    By that, I mean the people from the ’40s. They look different, and your average people of today, even in vintage clothes, can’t get that authenticity.

  8. George says:

    These are indeed remarkable. Never seen anything like them. That being said, and without being critical, something is missing as “Trouble” mentioned. It’s in the eyes, or perhaps it’s a spiritual thing. A noble effort, yet you can’t photoshop the grit which endured the Great Depression and saved the free world from World War II’s dangers.

  9. beth says:

    I don’t necessarily believe ‘life was harder’ back then. Life is hard and always will be but there were so many positives then that culture lacks now – just talk to anyone who was there. Her comment about normal things not being normal anymore bothered me. However I understand art is supposed evoke emotion -its just not always pleasant. I like pleasant most of the time.

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