kristen s. wilkins

Presence of Absence

sizes between 5"x4" and 11"x14"; inkjet prints, 2003-08

“The photograph of the missing being will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”
-- Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1993, 80

My collection of photographs contains hundreds of beautiful images of people and places I have never known. Each picture has lost its connection to the person who first owned it.

A portrait is meant to preserve the identity of a person, to serve as a memory trigger for the viewer, and remind us of who they were and what they looked like. The photograph takes the place of the individual in their absence. It is meant to affirm their uniqueness. These are the photographs I am drawn to collect. When I find them, they are torn, scratched, faded, and piled in boxes that overflow with the portraits of the faceless masses lost in history. They are separated from their biographies, their homes, and their names. Their clothing, surroundings, and gestures give me clues of the kind of people I want them to be, but their faces reveal nothing. These pictures were made to celebrate the individuality of the people photographed, yet have come to represent their mortality and loss.

I buy their orphaned faces, take them home, and study the people portrayed. Their images pull at my eyes, searching my brain for the memory that will reassert their significance and their lost identity. But their faces are blank and reveal oblivion. Only my projected memories of who they might have been for me can carry them forward.

Presence of Absence renews these photographs by creating new images that focus on the details that survive time, while acknowledging their loss of identity. This series is based on photographs collected over the last ten years. 

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