ART: The representation of memories within Photography and Art

The Verse’s Meg Compton explores the representation of memories within Photography and Art. 

Growing old doesn’t mean you have to forget where you came from. Remembering where you came from and who you once were, is part of being an adult. Memories are things of the past that trespass in the present and future. Their presence can bring laughter, happiness and even tears. They show growth, maturity and every journey that we go through when we’re growing up. They shape who we are as a people.

Also, with Otsuka and Ekaterina Panikanova, both portray different aspects of childhood memories and childhood in general. They all use completely different methods which highlight their view of childhood memories. However, they all somehow linked to each other. There is a cohesive theme that is represented by these artists that make it seem as if they’re all on completely different pages of the same book. They represent their thoughts, feelings and memories. Mixed with cultural identity, the human psyche and childishness.

Chino Otsuka is a Tokyo born photographer who is now London based. She explores the idea of childhood memories by editing herself in her childhood memories. She takes the simple moments that were captured of her as a child and edits in her adult self. Otsuka narrates the past and presents together, combining it to make one experience.
Imagine finding me- 1985, 2005, Paris, France

“The digital process becomes a tool, almost like a time machine, as I’m embarking on the journey to where I once belonged and at the same time becoming a tourist in my own history.” Otsuka explains her ability to edit photos as a ‘time machine’. This highlights the brevity of life and the portrayal of her childhood memories. The older Otsuka within the younger photo is a foreign item she is supposed to look out of place. Yet she doesn’t because it’s a representation of what might have been. It’s a way of her communicating with herself and whom she used to be. This collection of photos also represents the idea of re-experiencing childhood within your adulthood.

Otsuka represents her childhood memory in a literal way, literally putting herself in her own past and crossing paths with her previous self. These photos explore the changes between childhood and adulthood as well as the impact of a childhood memory. Otsuka styles the current her in the same manner as the young Otsuka. However, the older Otsuka is dressed in her own personal style showing the growth between them. She also tries to convey growth through the item she is eating. In some ways, it’s ironic, as she eats the bigger pizza when she’s younger and the smaller pastry when she’s older. This signifies that growing old takes some of the adventurous, wild attitudes out of a person.

As the child version of Otsuka has the confidence to take on a baguette, whereas the older Otsuka seems feeble, almost shy eating the pizza. Maybe because she is more aware of the camera and that her picture is being taken. It also shows a maturity of the taste buds that ageing has. Children like to stick with what they know, they familiarise themselves with a certain food, place, person and then keep them close. In a way these photos represent that because as an adult your childhood is something that you keep close to you. These photos show an outreach to have something back that she could never have; Childhood innocence.

Chino Otsuka
If people were to look at this piece without knowing the title, both Otsuka’s would look like sisters, or even mother and daughter. Showing a bond between her childhood and her adulthood. Representing the repercussion of being an only child, as there is a need for a companion. The piece also has elements of cultural identity as Chino Otsuka is originally from Tokyo, however, she travelled a lot when she was younger. Therefore being in France shows an understanding of different cultures and different people. A first-hand look at what different cultures are like.

Otsuka doesn’t have a big cultural identity, as she has travelled a lot in her life; this shows a need for her own cultural identity, as she holds onto what she does have within these photos. She combines both her emotional attachment to her childhood, with the culture she found in many countries. She is a tourist in France and a tourist in her own photo.

‘If again, I have a chance to meet. There is so much I want to ask. And so much I want to tell.’ Otsuka uses photography as an aid to relive her childhood or to see what it would look like to be there now. What difference it would make to be there now rather than in the past. Would it affect anything? Otsuka continues with the uniform theme of a slight pixilation. This increases the effect making it seem as if both versions of her were actually there at the time.

Ekaterina Panikanova is a Russian born artist who uses old notepads and books and attempts to visually draw the human mind. Cleverly putting together a grid of what seems like random books with a random placing. However, Panikanova is exploring the way a childhood memory can be a bad thing. How they can be emotionally draining. Panikanova uses these books and arranges them in a puzzle sort manner, each depending on each other, just like memories. The memories and experiences you have as a child make you the person you are in the present. However, in this instance Panikanova expresses how our childhood memories can trigger us and shape us in good or bad ways.

In this collection, Panikanova is inspired by the metaphor of the oyster and the pearl. “To be an artist is to be an oyster, who under threat of invasion and possible repression, actively seeks to produce the perfect pearl; sensitive to his or her surroundings, an artist is a being who does not shy away from his or her own fears, but embraces them, tries to understand them, and molds them into art. To be measured by the intensity of one’s iridescence, that is what this life means- Dana Livermore”

The way we stress and live our life ultimately comes back to haunt us. Whether we live a good life or a bad life. In this specific piece, there’s a little girl hugging what seems to be a father or possibly an older male figure in her life. The reasoning behind the fragmented books and the canvas suddenly stopping and starting could resemble the fact that hugging was a rare memory, a special memory. This could symbolise neglect as a child. This then links to the idea of the oyster and pearl. A lack of affection as a child could trigger an artistic spur which would lead to these deep, emotional paintings. Panikanova has been able to collect many memories over the years of being an artist. Being just five years old when he was a participant in an exhibition Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg.

Panikanova and Otsuka show strong similarities in the way they represent their childhood memories. Both show a reflection on the past and their memories, they do this in a different way. Panikanova uses the idea of the oyster and the pearl to reflect on her past. She shows self-awareness in the way she has grown up and used a memory that represents isolation. She shows how this could shape him as a person, or shape another person. This also links to the audiences childhood memories as it is a common emotion to be isolated and lonely as a child. Making a sort of bond between him and the audience.

Otsuka also shows reflection throughout her collection. She shows the journey she’s been on in life to get from the child version to the older version. In some of her work, she places the older her in a sort of tourist position, as if she’s just sneaking past the camera. As if she just wants a glimpse of her past. However, in this piece, she is centre stage in the photo, as if she is taking over her past or finally agreeing and being cohesive with her past. It’s as if she didn’t like or understand her past in previous pictures (whilst making/editing them) and now she’s come to terms with it and had a look into it, she understands why things happened the way they did and by accepting that. She now realises what made her the woman she is in the picture.

Over the whole collection, you can see her gradually getting comfortable with her younger self. It starts as she walks past her in a rush, then she sits on a bench with her but still keeps her distance and finally she’s standing next to her. Mimicking her actions as if they’re still the same person, which in some ways they are. However they are not completely the same person. The older Otsuka is the butterfly from the caterpillar of the younger Otsuka, both beautiful yet completely different things, with different purposes in life.

Younger Otsuka
Both Panikanova and Otsuka show cohesiveness within their work. Otsuka shows a cohesion between her present-day self and her younger self. Panikanova shows the cohesiveness between the relationship of herself and her audience. The emotional value of her work has a triggering value. Wanting people to look at his work then relate it back to their childhood. He wants his audience to realise how far they’ve come since being a child and laying in the lap of your parents when you were upset, or craving attention just because you can.

Both Panikanova and Otsuka relay their precious moments from their childhood. Both want to evoke emotions within themselves and the viewer. The thoughts and feelings from within the art, reunite themselves and their audience with emotions that they may not have experienced in years. Otsuka shows an acceptance of her childhood through the exploration of it.

Both show how reconnecting with your child can affect your adulthood, especially Otsuka. Otsuka replays the things she remembers, the moments she holds dear to her. Whereas Panikanova challenges the way we experience emotions, by trying to bring them up. Trying to make us feel sad or happy, which shows a juxtaposition between the intent of Panikanova’s work and the process of emotions. Emotions are natural and raw. They are part of any functioning human, they are felt naturally, therefore to attempt to provoke these emotions, seems unnatural.

Panikanova tries to provoke this change in a person, hoping her work would affect people. The intended purpose for Panikanova’s work is to change the viewpoint of a person and to leave a lasting effect. Otsuka’s intended purpose is for self-reflection. This collection of photos seems to be for herself more than anyone else, as it has so many elements to it that maybe she would only understand. They deal with personal issues of acceptance and growing old, they also deal with identity problems. Who was she and who is she now?

What makes Chino Otsuka different, what makes her unique. These photographs may not answer all these questions. However, they do put forward the idea that identity is something we develop ourselves, rather than being part of a group. Our identity is our own personal thoughts, feelings and actions. Panikanova uses the books to show the replaceability of life. We can turn a page, read another sentence and still make art out of it. She wants to show the movement of an art piece, the idea that it shouldn’t just live in the moment. It should be immortalised. Panikanova also uses books because she believes they are a body of rules. A physical copy of the non-physical things within life E.G Religion, Science and laws.

Both Panikanova and Otsuka revel in their memories and childhood, however on the opposite end is Jonny Briggs. An artist who is deeply involved with his childhood, however, he looks at it in a different way. Jonny Briggs searches for lost parts of his childhood. Creating ideas and realities outside the one he was born into and lived. In these collections of photos Briggs himself and others out of memories. This method shows the physical removal of a memory, which is a high contrast to the other two artists.

Otsuka and Panikanova both cling on to the idea of memories, whereas Briggs seems to believe his memories are somehow worth removing and messing with. Briggs also uses a rubbing effect to remove faces from his work, this allows the body of the person to still live within the memory. However, the face (the most personal part of the body) is removed.

The removal of people in Briggs’ history relates a lack of happiness and attachment to his past. However, in this case, Jonny Briggs’ use of removal shows an attachment and inquisitive nature to his past. Briggs’ collection is a recreation of his childhood through his adult eyes. This is a similarity to Otsuka and Panikanova’s work, as they both bring in the emotions and past into their present work, as if in reflection. ‘I look back to my younger self and attempt to re-capture childhood nature through my assuming adult eyes.’ Briggs emphasises the fact that adults assume things, relating to the idea of wrong recollection.

As we grow older we remember things in a particular way. However a lot of the time we get things wrong within our memories. We may remember a happy memory that wasn’t actually happy. We look back at people whom we called friends and realise that they never were. This is what Jonny Briggs wants to emphasise when he removes faces. The fact that everything was not as it seemed, that we blur out images and remove part of memories, all his work focuses on this idea. Both Otsuka and Briggs use the idea of comparatives within their work. Otsuka is a literal comparison between her present and her past, whereas Briggs’ is a comparative perspective of his memories and his past.

These pieces of art are experiments with the essence of time and the past, present and future. They use the idea of change and growth within their work. Experimenting with time and presentation of themselves. They are all trying to validate their memories and children in different ways. Each artist has a personal twist to their work that a viewer may not get. However, there is an intimacy between them and the audience.

There is an undertone of childhood in Panikanova’s piece, however, Otsuka uses childhood as her main theme. Each of these collections has a theme of acceptance, whether it might be an acceptance of time or an acceptance of the self. They are both searching for validation within their collections. The presentation of time and memories also stretch deeper and runs throughout art everywhere, as our memories and our past have such a big effect on us. They make us who we are today so technically all art is based on our past.

All art has roots from within our memories, even political artists like Banksy. His art is a portrayal of covering or cushioning political issues, it also depicts a sense of humour. This could stem from a liberal upbringing or a having a wider view of the world. Art is a depiction of who we are as people. Jonny Briggs uses his art to create new memories and revamp the old ones. Forgetting people who he no longer knows and removing himself from situations that he does not enjoy.

Panikanova’s work is really all about how his work can evoke other peoples memories and emotions. It is also about the way art is made the eclectic ways of our memories and art in general, as our memories come in a dismembered order. The art of remembering a memory and keeping hold of it is shown within Panikanova’s work. She uses the pages in order to show that a new page can bring a different memory, a different emotion. Thus delivering a disjointed version of memories.

Otsuka’s past is a literal inspiration for her collection, for some artists, it is used as a metaphor, however she literally inserts herself into pictures. Taking the idea of being a blank canvas and comparing the past and the present. They all support the idea that art is heavily inspired by your past. Each body of work creates a character and a memory within the art pieces. Creating art is taking our backgrounds and our memories and letting them inspire us. Which then aids us into creating more memories and more inspiration for our future. That’s what is represented within these collections and artists. The idea that we create art because of who we are (past and present) and that then inspires us to become whom we are meant to be.

WEB LINKS: : Chino Otsuka; Personal Website : Chino Otsuka; Personal Website; Gallery : Article about Chino Otsuka : Article about Chino Otsuka Ekaterina Panikanova: Personal Website : Article explaining the Oyster and the Pearl : Jonny Briggs: Personal Website : Article about art and memories



Chino Otsuka : Photo Album by Chino Otsuka

Time and Photography by Jan Baetens

The Verse Staff

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