Constructing childhood and performing memories

“When you were a child you had to create yourself from whatever was to hand. You had to construct yourself and make yourself into a person, fitting somehow not the niche that in your family has always been vacant, or into a vacancy left by someone dead. Sometimes you looked towards dead man’s shoes, seeing how, in time, you would replace your grandmother, or her elder sister, or someone who no one really remembered but who ought to have been there: someone’s miscarriage, someone’s dead child. Much of what happened to you, in your early life, was constructed inside your head. You were a passive observer, you were the done-to, you were to not-explained-to; you had to listen at doors for information, or sometimes it was what you overheard; but just as often it was disinformation, or half a tale, and much of the time you probably put the wrong construction on what you picked up. How then can you create a narrative of your own life?”
Hilary Mantel, “Giving Up The Ghost” Harper Perennial, 2003…

“Martha Langford, who works extensively with family photographic albums deposited in museum archives, argues in her book Suspended Conversations that people’s uses of (family) albums are governed by the same underlying structures as those of the oral tradition – of oral memories and life stories: ‘Our photographic memories are used in a performative oral tradition’ (Langford 2001, viii). Not only do photographs operate as props and prompts in verbal performances of memory, but the collection of photographs that makes up a family album itself also follows an ‘oral structure’: ‘An album is a classic example of a horizontal narrative shot through with lines of both epic and anecdotal dimension’ (Langford 2001, 175). This in turn informs the interpretive performances that accompany displaying and looking at photograph albums. Developing an ‘oral-photographic’ method, Langford has tested this through ‘performative viewings’ of archived albums, conducted both with donors/compilers of the albums and also with informants who have no connection with or knowledge of the families who figure in them. Her findings suggest that even outsiders will weave stories around albums, stories which embody precisely the epic, anecdotal quality that marks the memory text.”
Annette Kuhn,’Photography and cultural memory: a methodological exploration’: Visual Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, December 2007
Read the rest of the article as a PDF


My operation has been re rescheduled. A power cut at the hospital on the day I was due to have surgery on my hand meant long delays and ultimately cancellation of the op. I had to wait all day in case they could fit me in which meant nil by mouth for 10 hours- bit of a trial for me, the food obsessive. An hour long power cut at a hospital obviously wreaks havoc , and must have been a huge strain on staff and resources which are already so overstretched – but I was so impressed and grateful for the time and care taken by the nursing staff and surgeon despite the huge pressure they were under to explain what what was happening and to try to keep me informed. It makes me very very thankful for the NHS and for the good care I am receiving at Bradford Royal Infirmary for this minor injury – but also worried about the future – for me, and for everyone. One, or five, or ten years down the line, when the government are further on with their plundering of our National Health Service for private profit, what will be left? I just have a temporary injury that will heal in weeks but what about these with serious illness and injuries? It makes me angry, and frightened.

Tuesday is my new date for surgery.I found out last week I am to have a general anaesthetic and it may be that they need to put wires in my hand to correct the break in my finger. This means being out of action for longer than I was expecting – the nurse said up to six weeks. That means being off work for that time. I work in a kitchen so working one-handed is a no-no. I am lucky that though this job is part time, it’s also permanent which means I am entitled to sick pay, unlike most of my colleagues who are on zero hours contracts. If I was completely reliant on self employed earnings, like many artists I know, I’d also be scuppered.

So I am focussing on this luck, and seeing this unexpected period of enforced inactivity as an opportunity. My right hand is out of action, yes, but I can learn to use my left, and my hand is not yet in a cast so I also have use of my right index finger and thumb. I’m trying, and getting better at, doing lots of things with my left hand.

Yesterday I had the urge to make again so have been mucking about with drawing and collaging with my left hand to see what I can do. It takes longer to do everything so I’m slower and more patient. Also because I’m seeing it more as experimental play (what can I do/not do with my left hand) I’m not putting the usual pressure on myself to “make work”. It’s keeping me out of trouble anyway.

I finished the Hilary Mantel memoir… Mantel writes vividly about the impact of illness and the many medical procedures she has experienced throughout her life not just on her physical body, but on her very identity, the core of her being. She describes writing is her way of recreating herself

“I have been so mauled by medical procedures, so sabotaged and made over, so thin and so fat, feel that each morning it is necessary to write myself into being -even if the writing is aimless doodling that no one will ever read, or the diary that no-one can see till I’m dead. When you have committed enough words to paper you feel you have a spine stiff enough to stand up in the wind. But when you stop writing you find that’s all you are, a spine, a row of rattling vertebrae, dried out like an old quill pen.”

Keep Our NHS Public:
Zero hours contracts:


Watching my hand swell and colour over the past few days, waiting for my finger operation, in a state of codeine-induced stupefaction (n.b not totally awful) I’ve needed something to read to distract me from the dull throb of my poor blue digit and gloomy thoughts of the plates and pins that will be inserted into it tomorrow.

It’s been a long time since I read anything that isn’t research for WE ARE ALIVE AGAIN. My codeine concentration span, however, wont allow me to retain much information before I drop into a vague blurry daze, and anyway trying to resume reading my research materials will just frustrate me and remind me that of my temporary ‘stuck’ state, that I can’t ‘get on’ with the project properly till I have some use of my hand again.

I used to hoover up fiction but I stopped a while back , probably when this project got going. As a result I’ve no idea what to read. I’m a fussy reader at the best of times, prone to literary snobbery, difficult to please.

Lucky for me, I found Hilary Mantel’s memoir “Giving Up The Ghost” (…) in a charity shop at the weekend. I grabbed it off the self and knew I was in good hands. I love Mantel. Her prose – dark, blunt, no-nonsense, mischievous, makes me feel elated. I recognise her voice, like a very old, half-remembered friend. Her book is the tonic I need. She writes, near the beginning of the book, an amazing sentence about her childhood which stops me in my tracks and makes me fold the page over:

“The story of my own childhood is a complicated sentence that I am always trying to finish, to finish and put behind me. It resists finishing, and partly this is because words are not enough; my early world was synaesthesic, and I am haunted by the ghosts of my own sense impressions, which re-emerge when I try to write, and shiver between the lines”

Hilary, I am too! This is why I constantly collaging, using and re-using photographs of myself as a child; adding real and found and fictional parts of homes and family members, arranging and re-arranging – in a constant search for meaning, to try and finish the sentence of childhood.

Does anyone ever finish it? Or is it like homework that’s too hard – and will sit in a drawer somewhere, waiting till you find the answer?


the best laid plans, eh.

last thursday while taking betty out for a walk she pulled on the lead to get to another dog – my fingers got caught and bent back in her lead -and now i have a broken finger.

i have to have an operation on it which is happening tomorrow. i dont know the procedure yet as the hospital hadnt received the x rays from a and e but it will either involve plates or pins or both. i tried not to listen too closely as i am the most squeamish person alive. its really painful but i am trying not to be a wuss. i am righthanded so needing help with the most basic of tasks – n is being lovely and amazing and helpful but im feeling quite frustrated and disorientated by this new turn of events. i just want to get on with some work! i dont know how long im going to be out of action for…

i guess i will have to learn some patience.


Back into it then.

Sunday marked the end of the summer I guess.. Seeing Nile Rodgers and Chic at Bingley Festival, was a fine end, FUNK EUPHORIA! A day to recover, and today into the studio.

Easy does it though. Sending a couple of emails, re-reading sections of Penny Tinkler’s ‘Using Photographs in Social and Historical Research’ (Sage, 2013), some long overdue scanning in of family photos and posting on the family blog and then some collaging.

Not too onerous. That’ll do for one today.

Greetings, Autumn.