This presentation will consider old family photographs as portals to the past. If we are lucky to possess them these relics convey layers of information about the people pictured. We can read into them a great deal, from their clothing, their physicality, their expressions. Not everyone has access to such documents.
“Refugees are divided into two categories: those who have photographs and those who have none.” This quote from a Bosnian refugee is cited by writer, Dubravka Ugrešić. She goes on to tell another vignette from the Bosnian war: When the war criminal Ratko Mladic was shelling Sarajevo from the surrounding hills, he saw through his rifle sights, the house of an acquaintance. He phoned this person and told him he was giving him five minutes to collect his “family albums” because he was going to blow the house up.
“The general,” Ugrešić writes, “who had been destroying the city for months, knew precisely how to annihilate memory. That is why he “generously” bestowed on his acquaintance life with the right to remembrance. Bare life and a few family photographs.”
A family portrait made in 1900 became the inspiration for my historical fiction, UNSETTLED (October 2023, Sybilline Press). I will describe the process of traveling from the photograph through a few obituaries and family stories to arrive at the characters and their secrets and stories.
I invite the participants to bring old family photographs for the discussion following the presentation.