my childhood reassembled
I grew up in the American suburban midwest of the early 1960s. This project reflects my experience in that time and place as a young child trying to make sense out of his world and his family relationships. For this visual memoir, I photographically recreated selected vignettes from my childhood. Based on memory and family snapshots, I constructed a replica of portions of the interior and exterior of my childhood home. I then directed and photographed an ensemble of actor-models who resembled my family members.
The title, My Childhood Reassembled, in addition to describing the act of physically reconstructing the environment, also refers to the science that has shown that memories are not static, but are recreated and reassembled each time they are conjured in the human brain.
The set is a replica of the modest house in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where my parents, brother, sister and I lived from 1958–1966, or from when I was age two to age ten. These were my formative years, and my most significant and emotionally resonant childhood memories spring from then and there. Architecturally, the house was exceptionally unremarkable. Built in 1955 on one quarter of an acre, the utilitarian two-family, red brick cube contained two identical three-bedroom apartments, one on each of its two floors. Devoid of almost any architectural ornamentation, the textures and physical characteristics I recall most vividly are the coarse, tightly woven pale brown wall-to-wall carpeting, the mostly unadorned plain, off-white walls, the blue-green mid-century patterned linoleum in the kitchen, the harsh light from the large picture window in the living room, and the rough red brick texture of the exterior. What interests me are the many rich emotional associations conjured by these simple sensory recollections. For example, when I think of the heavily varnished, badly nicked, inexpensive hollow-core bedroom doors I remember the complicated, mixed feelings I harbored towards my siblings, who were alternately my best friends and arch-rivals. When I think of the kitchen linoleum floor, I remember wondering, with a mix of anxiety and curiosity, about the mysteries of my parents’ marriage, trying to make sense of their hushed tones as they spoke quietly in that room when my father came home from work late at night.
The visually nondescript rooms of My Childhood Reassembled, in contrast to the more romantically picturesque architectural elements and textures of past projects, confront the viewer as stubbornly esthetically mute, and this is how I remember them. Thus, by necessity, I have relied almost completely on a variety of expressive lighting strategies, along with the actors’ expressions and body language, to convey the range of moods.
Childhood is as emotionally complex a period as any other stage of life, though as children we lack the ability to put such a wide range of feelings into any coherent perspective. Life then, can be at times especially magical, at times mysterious, and at times bewilderingly sad. My hope and my aim has been to create a picture that expresses both the joy and pathos of childhood, as reflected in the fluctuating and ever-changing mirror of my memory.