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Playful re-configuration of found photography

An interview with photographer Davide Meneghello about his latest works appropriating vernacular photography.

 

Diaspora (2016) is a surreal montage of found family photographs. The work provides an insight into familiar situations, triggering collective memories of the mundane.

Again He Holds Me by the Hand (2017) is a series transforming archival photographs to emphasise homoerotic gestures, historically concealed from the public.

Sharing the artist’s fascination with the notion of the archive, we discover more about his process and way of working.

 

 

 

What draws you towards the material you include in your work?

The way I choose materials for my work changes with every project, it doesn’t happen in a methodical way. It is interesting to see how the projects Diaspora and Again He Holds Me by the Hand, in fact developed in contrasting ways.

Diaspora is composed by playful re-configuration of slide film, which I found at a flea market. Coincidentally, most of the material, although bought at different times, happens to be from the same families. In this work my attention is on the history of the object, the slide film itself. I am interested in the way such obsolete photographic material is symbolic of private histories. Memories of families embedded in the film are subjected to reconfiguration and appropriation, abstracted from their original setting. My fascination with the notion of dispersion gave birth to the work. The approach to Again He Holds Me by the Hand is almost the opposite. The concept anticipated the images, and the priority in this case was the content of the archive. For a while I was searching for photographic traces of same sex intimacy, dated prior to the gay liberation of the late 60s. The sailor, for example, is a key figure in the homoerotic collective fantasy. This was a deciding factor in my choice of images for this project.

 

Does the original purpose of the material you acquire affect the way you manipulate it?

I believe so. In Diaspora, the slides and their aftermath dispersion, as well as the fact that they are snapshots of private memories acquire meaning to me. They are family photographs meant to record joyful moments and preserve the past of their owners.

 

What is your method of working after gaining access to the archives?

For me it is important as an artist to use such sources as a raw material and to transform them in new ways. To achieve my purpose in Again He Holds Me by the Hand, I have enjoyed treating the digital negatives of the archives in the darkroom. The intention was to reveal the strong homoerotic element of specific gestures that are usually indistinct in public photographic archives.
In the triptych, I have printed the photographs onto glass sheets in circular shapes, matching the gesture I intended to highlight. The second series was produced by enlarging the original photographs and placing photographic paper only on the section of the image I wanted to expose. When installing, I re-assembled all ten fragments onto the wall in the exhibition space, making these gestures apparent to the viewer’s gaze. 

What do you intend for viewers to perceive from your work?

I have a specific intention when creating the work, but I do not aim for a single interpretation of it from the viewers. In my series Again He Holds Me by the Hand the intention I had was to re-imagine and re-interpret history out of defined historical narratives.

 

Does the passage of time affect the way photography is read and understood?

I think it definitely does. In recent years, there has been a strong interest in queer history, especially due to the 50th Anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK last year. Photography is a cultural device as much as a scientific one, and I believe social change strongly affects the way we look at photographs. For me this has been a strong drive to re-interpret historical material.

 

Do you find a relationship between a place and an archive in terms of their capacities to hold and carry information?

Yes absolutely, both are progressively inscribed with human action, which could change or generate the information that they carry. It is interesting to see how people from different cultures can interpret these details.

 

What part does language play in your practice?

I have worked with literary text in similar ways as I have with the archival material. The title Again He Holds Me by the Hand comes from a poem by Walt Whitman originally dedicated to a man. In general, language is fundamental to the artistic practice. If one is referencing works of art or text, they are adopting language for every kind of discipline.  In a more strict sense, I am very interested in working with writing and voice, but it is a field that I haven’t fully explored.

 

What are the key influences to your practice?

The exhibition Archive Fever curated by Okwui Enwezor has been fundamental for my work and research. Together with the collection of essays by Deborah Bright, The Passionate Camera: photography and bodies of desire and the film Looking for Langston by Isaac Julien.