Robin Gerris is fascinated by photography, not as a photographer or through any technical interest, but because of the potency of the photographic image: it allows for his layered research into concepts like time and memory. Perhaps surprisingly, Gerris investigates the medium by making sculptures and installations. His preferred method of working consists of transposing enlarged, printed old photographs onto different objects. These carriers range from construction materials to found pieces of wood and furniture, but they all show a certain amount of wear and tear, erosion and undefined history – some real and some faked. Gerris releases the photographic images from their squared confines, transforming them from images to objects, sculptures and almost architectural installations, drastically changing the way the source images are experienced and read.
Gerris stresses that photography is the core of his work and not matter, nor memory. However, there is a lot of insight to be gained from examining his work in relation to memory. While memory is a broad subject, in this text I want to focus on the relationship of Gerris’s practice to the remembering individual. In everyday life, when we speak of memory and remembering, we tend to mean something that we take to be personal and attributable to individuals. We all know what it feels like to have a memory of something, to strive to remember, to be aware of having forgotten, and we regard these experiences as ones that are central to our existence as self-conscious individuals. Our memories are ours, so much a part of us that to deprive us of them would be to jeopardize our sense of personal identity, an idea taken to extremes in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Total Recall. Memories are the private property of the remembering mind: they are not just a matter of what we know, but of who we are.
Photography has a strong relationship to individual memories. We have numerous mnemonic tools for both the storing and triggering of memories: these include events, like birthdays and commemorations, and physical objects like souvenirs or monuments. The best known of these repositories is, of course, the photograph. We make pictures of events and people we want to remember later. We used to print and place them in special albums made to flip through when you wanted to reminisce. Nowadays, this practice has been replaced by immaterial online albums and social media, the function of the photo might have changed but its mnemonic potential remains more or less the same.
Robin Gerris’s photographs come from different sources, both digital and analogue. He collects strangers’ old photographs and albums, from which he intuitively picks the images he uses. They are usually photos of everyday events and ordinary people with a snapshot quality, not particularly noteworthy ones. The sometimes ominous places and surroundings in these images tend to be more important than the people. Humans might even be absent, but things like empty chairs still stress their existence outside of the frame. Gerris gives these pictures a renewed and increased importance.