Archive Exposed - Kathryn Harrington

Throughout my lifetime I have always been aware of the importance of family and where my roots lie. However, it was not until recently that I came across a few boxes in my basement that held hundreds of family photographs, some of which dated back to the late 1800’s. I learned that my great grandmother had taken it upon herself to become the family archivist by collecting these memories and accompanying them with as many names, dates, and locations that she could uncover. These photos sparked a desire in me as an artist to investigate further. While there is much about these family members that I do know, I also realize that there is more that I do not know. Archive Exposed is a personal collection of family photographs that has been re-photographed and sent through a process called Mordencage. Training an artistic eye on my personal history, this body of work explores generational roots and ancestry while questioning the notions of lost information and personal histories that change over time. I chose to work in mordencage, a destructive photographic process that physically lifts the emulsion from a print when placed in a solution of copper chloride, acetic acid, and a high-grade hydrogen peroxide, as a way to showcase the lack of information I associate with these seemingly nostalgic images. While questioning the lack of knowledge I have for these family members and how they lived, I invite my viewers to contemplate the empty spaces and erased detail that each portrait reveals after the mordencage process has occurred. While I see my personal search as sincere, I recognize that most of my social connections to my family’s archive are rather mythical. Many of my family’s archived portraits reveal a staged, if not cinematic quality, which heightens the estrangement of my connection to the individuals portrayed. By pinning the series of portraits to the wall my aim is to present them like artifacts, a collection, open for examination.