Absent Bodies

"And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time" Letters to a young poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

When my maternal grandmother died, I felt a fundamental need to look into my family’s genealogy. I naturally leaned towards the members of my family that I know little about, and in particular my maternal grandfather, who I never knew. I decided to photograph my search; to make it more real, to help make it mine.

I visited the places that my ancestors lived in, the cemeteries where they are buried, and followed the roads they probably travelled1 along, looking for clues. I photographed this land as I would have photographed my questions. What is left of them? The land is a fundamental part of what we are made of, but doesn’t it too hold a trace of our lives there? What space should I give to my past, my family and my ancestors? What have they handed down to me? Travelling through this area looking for traces of their existence allowed me to project onto it everything I imagined them to be. These photos question the thin line between their real story, inaccessible to me and their imagined story, a mix of memories, anecdotes told by my family and my own fantasy.

This need to look back at my past comes from a feeling that something is missing. Absence is both the subject of these images and what brought them about. I have always found my maternal grandfather’s story disconcerting. Motherless and left by his father with an adoptive grandmother who maltreated him, he is said to have run away at the age of 3 in search of another family : a nearby couple who took children in. By tracing his family’s history back, I found the very beginning : a baby abandoned in Domfront hospice in France in 1848, no name, no family. My great, great, great grandfather would be given the name Marie-Victor Henry. It’s impossible to go further back. The branch is broken, damaged along its entirety : premature deaths follow, children brought up by others, as if transmission between generations was impossible… These stories repeat themselves, echoing around…. Until my grandfather who, in taking his decision, seems to have broken this vicious circle.

I have used this photographic series to explore and question, through intimate territories, the intense and ambivalent relationship that links me to my family. Behind this search for my family tree, fundamental questions that concern us all have been sketched out : the meaning of life and death.