Found Image

When the sea rises and carries us away: a blog series in response to (re)Collection by Larisa Minerva

Twice Around the Block: A Photo Scavenger Hunt – An interactive photo event led by Intersection’s Young Artists Advisory Council, in collaboration with 2 Blocks of Art

When: Friday September 28 and Friday October 19, 4–8pm

Where: Meet at the newspaper Kiosk in front of the Old Mint

Cost: FREE

For a while now I have been wondering what it means to have someone else’s personal photographs in our gallery. They were not intended to be art and were not captured to present an aesthetic or conceptual phenomena to an audience. These are found photographs from someone else’s private collection of memories, never intended to be displayed outside their own realm of acquaintances or even outside their own home.

But in the aftermath of the tsunami, all that has changed. In many instances the homes and lives that housed these images were lost. The water and bacteria demolished what was once intimate and replaced it with abstraction. Although these photographs in their transformation have gained a new power to evoke emotion the way any worthwhile art piece might, but I would argue that they are not art, but artifacts containing both the history of the lives of a Japanese community and the marks of’ the terrible destruction. Each photo carries its own story, imprinted by the past.

 “The temporality of the document appears to carry some residue of the past into the future: a passageway in and across time. Is it not therefore always haunted by the passing of time, or by its own passage from one time to another? That which produced the trace passes. It becomes the past and marks are the evidence of this passage. The document carries forward not evidence of the past so much as that something has passed. There is a sense of deferred temporality, a strange suspension of time, a gapping hole between the event and the documentation.”  – Charles Merewether

Found photographs are endlessly haunting and fascinating because they belong to a past that is not our own; each contains elements of voyeurism and kinship. Even if the person in the image is a stranger, they can remind you of something familiar. Perhaps the power of these objects resides in the power they hold in our society as a record of the past.

Charles Merewether argues in an examination of Japanese photography: “Photography is a dangerous supplement to memory. Modern memory depends entirely on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image. With the appearance of the trace, of mediation, of distance, we are not in the realm of true memory but of history. Reproducing the world witness to itself, photography becomes disconnected and displaces the social practice of oral tradition and conceals its heterogeneous condition as a sign. Modern technologies of memory stress the individual’s interiorization of the past as the collective milieu of memory vanishes. The result is a social amnesia and a lack of possibilities for collective action because there are neither links to one another, nor investment in the past that one might share with another.”

However, with the greater availability of photography with both digital and cellphone technologies, and the ever-expanding Internet venues for displaying images, I would argue this statement is only partially true. Although we continue to focus our efforts on our own individual histories and those within our friend groups, the web can almost be thought of as a real and tangible collective consciousness. Keeping in mind that only those with access can contribute, millions of images are posted daily of who we are as a species, both individual and collective histories are documented into a giant shared database.

Engagement with each other and our collective history is an important way to understand each other and the past we all share.  Please join me and the Young Artists Advisory Council for Twice Around The Block, a photo scavenger hunt during 2 Blocks of Art in San Francisco. It will be a fun and challenging game connecting images from the past with our present day surroundings. Plus the winners will receive an original art piece from one of our young and talented artists and a membership to Intersection for the Arts.


When the sea rises and carries us away is a weekly blog series featuring writings and photographs by Larisa Minerva. Holding the title of her most recent body of work, the blog will discuss art and culture as it relates to the rising fear of global warming and natural disasters, as well as what it means for something to become our past. You can follow her blog at and see more of her work at

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