WINCHESTER — Nothing in life is quite so layered as memory; and few memories matter more than family ones. Perhaps the single greatest appeal of photography is how it can assist, even shape, memory. In various ways, layering, family, and memory inform the four shows currently up at the Griffin Museum of Photography. They run through May 23.
Jerry Takigawa’s “Balancing Cultures” deals with all three themes — as well as one of the most shameful episodes in US history, the internment during World War II of 110,000 citizens and legal residents because they were of Japanese ancestry. Takigawa’s parents and grandparents were among the internees.
The balancing involved in these 33 images is of more than just cultures. It’s also of past and present, different media, even color with black and white. Takigawa makes photographic collages out of disparate elements. On vintage family photographs, some of them taken in the camps, he superimposes various artifacts: buttons, strips of paper, official documents, pressed leaves, even Scrabble tiles. Takigawa photographs the family images slightly out of focus, as befits the workings of memory. The superimpositions reflect the layerings of memory.
Many of the titles are justly pointed: “A Jap’s a Jap,” “Looking Like the Enemy,” “Insuring the Democratic Way of Life,” “EO 9066″ — for Executive Order 9066, the government edict that made criminals of law-abiding citizens and legal residents because of their racial background. Make no mistake, it was racial, not national: No comparable executive order was directed at US citizens and legal residents of German or Italian descent. “Imbalancing Cultures” could have been a title, too.
Claudia Ruiz Gustafson’s “Historias fragmentadas” (in English, “Fragmented Stories”) has elements in common with “Balancing Cultures.” The 29 photographs also balance cultures — born in Peru, Ruiz Gustafson now lives in Massachusetts — and the death of her grandmother inspired her to make “digital photo collages.” These consisted of “family photographs, fragments from my journals, and objects from my childhood.”
There are also notable differences with the Takigawa collages. For starters, Ruiz Gustafson’s images are square. Having a further set of right angles, inside the frame, emphasizes the contrast with the sinuous curves memory tends to follow. Perhaps because they’re less distant in time and more distant in space, the collages feel more immediate. More important, they don’t have to bear a burden of greater historical meaning. Many of them have a jazzier, more vibrant look, a kinetic lyricism. Emotional gravity and visual playfulness can be an alluring combination.
Edie Bresler’s “Anonymous” also employs layering, but without family connections or memory involved. Instead the past gets turned inside out. Bresler, who heads the photography program at Simmons University, found herself drawn to several unidentified nudes from the 19th and early 20th centuries. She scanned the images, then embroidered on them. Twelve of them make up “Anonymous.” The embroidery clothes the nudes, literally. In doing so, it also provides new identities. New memories are created for these glimpsed past lives.
The figures are akin to paper dolls (”Paper Doll” is the English title of one of Ruiz Gustafson’s collages): with the doll being the person in the original photograph, and the paper being the “clothes” or sequins or, in one case, wings that Bresler bestows on them. That image, “Anonymous 1880, 2018,” is pretty funny, though not as funny as “Anonymous 1843, 2017,” wherein a male figure looks so solemn, in that Victorian way, one wonders how he managed to keep so straight a face when he was unclothed.
There are just seven photographs in Tavon Taylor’s “The Last Rose of Summer.” They are easily the most formally conventional in these four shows. But most conventional in no way means least artful. Taylor is the winner of this year’s John Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Scholarship, awarded since 2016 in honor of the late photographer. Taylor won out over 100 other applicants.
The photographs deal in various ways with Taylor’s family. They feel personal without being revealing, slightly distanced but in no way aloof. They’re deceptively straightforward. Taylor is on the other side of the camera; otherwise he is very much of and with the people seen here. He’s our guide and their representative.
Visitors should note that advance reservations are required for admission. They can be gotten on the museum’s website.
JERRY TAKIGAWA: Balancing Cultures
CLAUDIA RUIZ GUSTAFSON: Historias fragmentadas
EDIE BRESLER: Anonymous
TAVON TAYLOR: The Last Rose of Summer
At Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road, Winchester, through May 23. 781-729-1158, griffinmuseum.org
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.