1.1 Up Close and Personal: In the Beginning
In photography, we see nothing. Only the lens ‘sees’ things. But the lens is hidden. It is not the Other, which catches the photographer’s eye, but rather what’s left of the Other when the photographer is absent (quand lui n’est pas la)” (Baudrillard.)*
Artist with brother Joseph (right) taken thier my father. 1962. Sault Ste. Marie, Canada
I must begin with a confession. I was born a media star, or so the Northern Daily News and the local Kirkland Lake TV station believed at the time.
I was born a leap year baby, on February 29,1956, at the Kirkland Lake Hospital in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.
The Northern Daily News had written me up not once, but twice, the second time being on my fourth birthday – with a large photo of me pointing happily at that magical date of my first ‘real’ birthday – February 29th, 1960.
I do not personally remember these events, yet upon reflection, it has made me think about the ways in which one’s identity may be defined by the relationship of memory to technology and media intervention (1).
It was around the time of my first leap year birthday that my parents decided to move to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. Both my parents were Italian immigrants, and so for the first six years of my life I was immersed in Italian culture and sheltered from Anglo American/Canadian ideologies.
It was not until my Dad had purchased our families’ first TV set in 1966 that my initiation into British/American Pop Culture would begin.
The TV set would become my window into a whole new world, one, which I knew nothing of; one which seemed so foreign to the Italian language, music and culture that I had up until then experienced.
Furthermore, it would be through television that I developed a sense of what constituted the real – not the real I had first envisioned and experienced as a boy, but one which would be formulated by others, and brought mysteriously, seamlessly and directly into my home.
“We are never in the real presence of the object. Between reality and its image, there is an impossible exchange. At best, one finds a figurative correlation between reality and the image” (Baudrillard).*
As proud as my father was when he took this photo ( Image 01 above) of my brother and me in our spanking brand new cowboy shirts, it is interesting to note how the TV holds such a prominent position in the photo. What also strikes me about the photo is how my brother and I were almost indistinguishable from the material objects and environment which surrounded us. Yet, perhaps more disconcerting was how our hands had been positioned by my father onto the dials of the TV set.
Of course, my father’s referencing of the TV set signified material success, and his difficult climb as an Italian immigrant to lower class labourer in Canada.
Television, as I was aware of at the time, played a critical role in its ability to sit in as a surrogate Other. My parents and extended family would reminisce about their birthplace. Television seemed to have the ability to simulate and extend their horizons – past, present and future, through the creation of a common reference point, one which everyone could gather around to access.
They also believed Television held and transmited valuable information about the socio-cultural landscape of Canada and the rest of the world. Perhaps most importantly, television was also a way to gather news about Italy, specifically Calabria, the Italian Province where my
Rediscovering this photo (Image 01), I was fascinated by how much it mirrored many of the ideas I would later formulate regarding technology and my art practice.
* Baudrillard, Jean. “Photography, Or The Writing Of Light.” C theory. transl. by Francios Debrix, .2000, accessed 2010, 2018
(1) Derrida, when asked about his birthday, replied that ‘I am not born yet’ because I was robbed of the moment when my namable identity was decided. Everything is set out for it to be so, it is what is called culture. And so through so many relays, one can only try to recover this theft or this institution which could, which must, have occurred more than once. But however iterable and divisible it remains, the ”once only” stands fast. (Derrida, J – A Certain Madness Must Watch Over Thinking, (1995) 45 Educational Theory 273), accessed 2010, 2018
(2) In their book, Media Anthropology, Mihai Coman and Eric W. Rothenbuhler point out that: “… rituals and media ritualization can be considered mechanisms through which individuals are connected to the global social world, see it as a concrete and powerful entity, and become aware of being part of a more imaginary community (see Dayan, Lardellier, Rothenbuhler, Thomas), but, just as well, rituals and ritualization can be forms of expression and public acceptance of a rapture in the social texture, of conflicts between groups, of the exercise and naturalization of power (see Couldry, Coman, Liebes & Blondheim, Shinar)” (p. 06). Also see See Television as Gathering Place by Paul C. Adams (1992) and Place and Placelessness by Edward Relph for a more in-depth discussion on this.
Below are links to texts related to The Skinning of Memory (VP2) Installation that were published as part of my MFA Thesis, 2010. Specific segments have been revised and updated for this post. John Naccarato, 2022