© Lorena Guillén Vaschetti
Lorena Guillén Vaschetti’s book historia, memoria y silencios (history, memory and silences), which was recently published by Schilt, explores in a very personal way what viewers can read in photographs and what remains unreadable, and how what we leave behind in pictures shapes history and memory.
The project started with a rescue. The slide photographs Vaschetti’s grandparents made were in the trash on a curb, and her mother was on the phone telling Vaschetti that she’d been done a favor. When she asked why her mother had thrown away the family photographs, she recalls, her mother replied, “That happened already and everybody is gone anyways.” Vaschetti comes from a large Italian family who lived in Bueno Aires, Argentina, but for many reasons, some tragic, others natural, the once-large family is now just Vaschetti and her mother.
Had her mother not thrown away the slides, “I wouldn’t have paid that much attention to them,” the photographer says. But she implored her mother to retrieve the photographs from the curb. All that survived was a box with slides that spanned a period from the late-Sixties to the mid-Seventies.
While looking at the slides, which were loose in the sand-colored box, Vaschetti realized many of them were made during an extremely difficult time for her grandparents and the family. Acquaintances of her mother’s brother attempted to kidnap him for ransom. It went wrong and he was shot seven times in the back, Vaschetti says. “It was [like] a bomb in the family.”
“How did they live with that?” she wondered, as she looked through the slides. She became interested in the idea that “there was a big story hidden in those images that wasn’t available to the common viewer,” she says.
She decided to re-photograph the slides on a light table using a macro lens. Vaschetti’s re-photographed images are mostly out of focus, which visualizes the act of deciphering and interpreting memories. Her method allowed her to play with depth of field and adjust the focus of the images to emphasize certain details, altering their meaning based on what she knew of the family or saw in the photographs, making the memories hers.
There are images from car trips and beaches, and home and hotel interiors. In one photograph a woman stands at a scenic overlook against the backdrop of a jagged, white-capped mountain range. In another she holds a small dog up over her head. Two women and a man pause midway up a staircase leading onto a cruise ship. Vacationers play in the surf while a little girl looks on. A woman in a checked skirt and black blouse lies in an unmade bed, smoking a cigarette. A man looks out over a city from a balcony.
Vaschetti initially wanted to create the book as a box with loose photographs, so the reader could arrange and interpret them, but for practical reasons had to sequence them for a more traditional book. The narrative she built begins with a trip—all of the photographs are outdoors, there is a youthful sense of adventure—and then the images move inside, into bedrooms and other intimate spaces. The people in the photographs feel older, more mature, perhaps world weary.
In addition to the loose slides in the box, Vaschetti also found sets of slides that were packaged together with rubber bands, some labeled with small pieces of paper, and little tin film canisters. She also found pieces of paper that had been wrapped around sets of slides but were now loose.
Rather than looking through the packages she left them intact and photographed them on black seamless. She liked wondering why they were grouped together and what meaning was hidden in them. “I understood that there were many things that were not told,” she says, not only in each image, but also between images.
While she worked on her project, Vaschetti also thought about the number of images people are making and potentially leaving behind for future generations, and how people today will be remembered through those images.
“History is what we agree happened,” Vaschetti explains. “Memory is this organic thing—we think it was one way, we experience something together and after a few years you feel differently than I do. And silences are all those things that we don’t know and that we don’t want to talk about and that stay in silence.” There are too few silences today in an over-photographed world, Vaschetti says. “It’s very complicated for future generations. We want to be remembered, we want to be somebody in this world, and we leave so much of [the] little things” that are insignificant.
“I am more interested in the things we don’t know,” she adds. “If I would see this book in a book shop, I would remember that there was something that I couldn’t access more than the images themselves.”