Photography is not only a pure form of artistic expression. It’s also a tool we use to capture everyday moments to preserve them as memories—first days of school, birthdays, or other special events and gatherings. In contemporary photography, projects that play on these everyday uses of the medium draw strength in our familiarity with relatable scenes, viscerally reminding us of the nostalgia we feel while sifting through piles of old photos in our own family and personal archives.
Eight years ago, artist Lebohang Kganye lost her mother, and felt the need to creatively explore the possibility of somehow keeping their connection alive. She soon realized her mother’s photographs were the perfect starting point. “I began looking for pieces of my mother in the house, and found many photos and clothes that have always been there, but that I had ignored over the years,” she explains. “There she was, smiling and posing in these clothes.”
Kganye began working with a range of materials from her mother’s archive, understanding each piece as an integral part of “her-our ‘histories’.” She explains, “I began inserting myself into her pictorial narrative by emulating these snaps of her from my family album. I would dress in the exact clothes that she was wearing in these thirty-year-old photographs and mimic the same poses.” By incorporating both her material memories—the clothing—with the visual photographs, Kganye was able to combine her own, new memory with her mother’s old one.
Once she successfully recreated each scene, the photographer digitally manipulated the images so that they were fused together, eerily resembling the historic tradition of ghost photography. The resulting images still look like their original counterparts from the family archive, but they are imbued with a new, present-day meaning—it’s an artistic project that is both creative and deeply personal.
Throughout this creative process, Kganye was able to reconnect with her mother, and it wasn’t just about the images of her in her clothes. The gestures, poses and expressions that Kganye mimicked integrated a performative component into the work that was extremely helpful to her healing process. “She is me, I am her, and there remains in this commonality so much difference and so much distance in space and time,” she says. “I realized that I was scared that I was beginning to forget what my mother looked like, what she sounded like, and her defining gestures. But the photomontages became a substitute for the paucity of memory—a forged identification and imagined conversation.”