Wenkai Wang

Somnia

New York
2016-onging

While many photographers address the theme of memory in their work, most erroneously treat both photographs and memories as static phenomena; and the act of remembering as passive. Yet memories become hazier over time; fusing with unrelated reminiscences, and gaining culturally-prescribed significance. And just as private memories can become collective, images, too, can lose their individual ownership.

True, photographic memories are perhaps more static than those we carry in our minds, yet they are by no means stagnant. It’s this dynamic evolution of image-memories across space, time, and context that forms the conceptual focus of Somnia.

Today photographs are produced on an unprecedented scale. Yet most will cause only a fleeting ripple on the surface of popular culture before sinking into obscurity. Who owns our pixels after we die? Perhaps some of the images we create in our lifetimes will outlive us, but in all likelihood our ownership rights over them will follow us to the grave.

And yet, if memory cannot be trusted without supporting “documentary evidence,” what might be the effect on my personal memories if I combine my own photographs with this digital detritus? If I repeatedly manipulate the same image-memory, adding consecutive palimpsestic layers, how will this impact my recollection of events? Can this serve as a form of therapy, transforming negative memories into positive ones?

With Somnia I ask whether it is possible to use the photographic medium to free myself from the burden of memory altogether. And, consequently, also from the need to participate in unmediated reality. If I spend all day taking photographs, I become an empty vessel; not only has the camera done memory’s job, but it has also removed me from meaningful lived experience. That being the case, can I still legitimately claim these memories as my own?

Featured by Jiazazhi and Lens Culture.

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