U R G E N T   A U T O B I O G R A P H I E S  : 
L I V E D   E X P E R I E N C E S   O F   E C O L O G Y   I N  P H O T O G R A P H I C   P R A C T I C E
in 'Contemporary Ideas on the Relationship Between Autobiographical Memory and Photography'

Published in 2023 by I.G.I Publishers 

- Excerpt - 

‘Human beings did not invent stories. We arrived inside of them.’[1]

Sophie Strand

‘All there is, whilst things perpetually fall apart, is the possibility of acting from where we are’[2]

Vanessa Machado

Lineage, ancestry, inherited or past community networks, in other words, human bonds, are an important part of the ecology of the species to which we belong, albeit not a central one. Situating ourselves in our own life stories as well as in larger human stories enables us to consider the processes of life and death that ultimately, we are. Once we can play with the concertina of our individual human stories, and those of our recent ancestors, we start stumbling upon non-human ecologies so deep and so involved in our own autobiographies, as what we call ‘the self’.

Ecological storytelling asks us to consider that we, individual human beings, don’t have one single story, but thousands, sporulating and happening at the same time and through cycles, irreversibly woven into the processes of other living beings, most of the time in ways which can’t be made fully visible. It seems that because they cannot be made fully visible, most human beings I know see no point in engaging with them, in imagining them and playing with them and witnessing them. How can you witness, honour something invisible? That sounds just too woo for most of us. ‘Because science’ someone held on a mug filled with coffee in a zoom conference last year. Either, or, all or nothing. This chapter invites readers, students, creative humans to use their creative practices and brains to activate the power of ‘and’: there is me and…what else is there? This exercise locates human bodies in more than human ecologies.

Ecological autobiographies and lineage stories are thus an essential part of the productive collapse of the ways of thinking and living which evidently are producing violent changes in our planet and in our own selves. As Ailton Krenak puts it ‘If people are not attached / bonded to their ancestral memory, with the references that sustain identity, they will become insane, in this insane world we share’.[3]

One could argue that within all the human lineages currently in existence we can find stories of extractivism, and its close relatives, white supremacy, and the patriarchy. They can be found in a prism of perspectives and experiences, entangled in the lives of our most recent ancestors, as well as in our own. Positioning our autobiographies within these complex violent systems with curiosity allows us to approach the conditions, limits, and the possibilities of our concrete actions towards social and ecological change. This way, in our new autobiographies, we can see ourselves as descents, accomplices, casualties of the abject events of the world and simultaneously resourceful and capable of emergent action We begin perceiving ourselves as profoundly embedded in wide ecologies / social systems and individual beings in our own right. As Alexis argues complicity and compromise are a starting point for action.[4]

This chapter draws upon eco-philosophy and visual studies literature, alongside the autobiographical and photographic work of the participants of the Global Network Photographies online seminar entitled ‘Urgent Stories’, the first iteration of which happened in November 2021 and which I have designed and facilitated.

The participants were invited to read and discuss literature, to share autobiographical stories of ecology and entanglement, to make work drawing from these stories and experiences. They were also invited to reflect upon how the act of remembering, imagining, shaping, and creating autobiographies as embedded beings within deep ecologies and we all found that this has a profound impact in reframing the way we think about our changing environments. Memory takes here an important role, allowing individuals to make sense of past events and re-think them, as complex, multidimensional and subjective lines of narrative which keep those events alive and useful to us in present day. Photographs in family archives and albums, photographic diaries, recorded oral stream of consciousness, interviews with family members and oral storytelling in a virtual space were some of tools used by participants to activate memory in a first instance. These improvised methodologies lead them to the use of photographic practice to fabricate new autobiographies, framed and conceived through a somewhat paradoxical lens of both ecological decentring and of rooting of the self within somatic experience, lineage, territory.

[1] Strand, Sophie, 2021 Ecologial Storytelling – Borrowed Time In Conversation [online] Available at: <https://borrowed-time.info/in-conversation-with-sophie-strand/ [Accessed 17 January 2022].

[2] Machado de Oliveira, V., 2021. Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity's Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism. North Atlantic Books.

[3] Krenak, A., 2020. Ideas to Postpone de End of the World. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, p.4

[4] Shotwell, A., 2016. Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.