Dealing with the Past: From Photography to Film

»The problem is not that people remember through photographs but that they remember only the photographs.« (Susan Sontag)

Dealing with the Past: From Photography to Film

The opening talk of the “Dealing with the past” section welcomed world renowned photojournalist Ron Haviv and professor Lauren Walsh presenting their documentary film Biography of a Photo. A project in-progress digging deeper into but also questioning Sontag’s thought on the remembrance of photographs by undertaking the topics of the role of remembering and forgetting in the wake of a conflict, of the impact of memory on the processes of reconciliation, and of how photographs operate as vehicles of memory.

The film will be depicting the so-called biographies of two iconic photographs taken by Haviv; the first one shot in Panama during the elections of 1989 and the second one during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. The choice of the genre of biography was intentional; the authors want to treat both photographs as living entities with their own life cycles. By doing archival work, as well as researching the collective memory and the personal stories behind both photographs through numerous interviews, the film intends to examine their behavior through time, in the local context, the changes in their meaning, their reproduction, as also erasure.

Haviv and Walsh took us through some specifics of the life cycles of both photographs. Beginning with the photo’s infancy, through its maturity, ageing, and ending with their lives today, they discussed their recognition, the political effects they brought about, their intentional forgetting through suppressed history, their role in education, as well as employing them for seeking justice by the ones whose lives were personally affected by the events documented. The Bosnian photograph was for example also used as evidence by investigators and prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague, while the Panamanian was explicitly mentioned and used as justification by President George Bush during a national address regarding the US intervention in Panama.

With many precious insights heard and with the film soon moving to the editing phase of the creative process, it is with great pleasure to wait for the intriguing Biography of a Photo to hopefully be screened at Sarajevo Film Festival in one year's time.

Petra Meterc