Cancellation is a very common practice in photography and it’s one of the ways it’s often used to overcome pain or loss.
Erasing someone from a photograph means to relegate them to damnatio memoriae, to “vaporize” (a term coined by George Orwell in his novel 1984) and to eliminate their presence (at least) from the visual documentation of our lives.
In fact, the cancellation is applied above all to vernacular photography, the one entrusted with the task of preserving the memory of moments, places and people and that, in relation to a traumatic event, can turn into a powerful weapon in awakening pain and feelings of nostalgia for something/someone that no longer exists in our life.
But if the act of erasing, disfiguring, cutting or burning represents a process of alienation itself, some found a way to make it even cathartic.
“The Unperson Project” is the project created by the Mexicans Susana Moyaho and Andrea Tejeda K. aimed at a real realization of an archive of oblivion. The two artists, through an open call, invited people to donate photographs in which they had deleted someone from the image: once received, the photos are catalogued and thus have the possibility to be recontextualized becoming part of an exhibition project.
By making their photos public, participants give up their control over them and can actually distance themselves from the vaporized subjects. Not only that: the sharing of traumatic or unpleasant experiences, can facilitate their overcoming leading to a better understanding and processing of the pain itself: the more the vaporized subject is absent in the photographic space, the more the presence of those who remain becomes relevant.
Yet, at the same time, erasing a presence from a photo can also mean giving shape to new hopes, visions and stories. The project “Jamais je ne t’oublierai”, by the Moroccan photographer Carolle Bénitah, is a successful and moving example.
Having very few photographs of her parents’ history before their marriage, Carolle draws on a potentially unlimited wealth of iconographic material from photos recovered from street markets and shops, turning the stories told in the shots into those of her family.
The “ghosts” and the stories protagonists of these shots, are hidden under gold leaves to become part of the story of her personal biography: gold, symbol of forgetfulness, but also color par excellence linked to the divine dimension, it covers with delicacy and dignity the faces to allow Carolle to avoid oblivion.
The Moroccan artist carefully chooses the old photographs on which to intervene: these are shots whose poses and scenes recall familiar deja-vu, happy moments that do not recreate fictions or lies, but stand as a universal symbol of a past never owned.
Absence and presence, cancellation and emphasis dialogue in the same iconographic space, albeit with different premises, in order to achieve a single objective: pacification with the past.