On Photographs, Fun Home and The Pencil of Nature
Fugitive and fictive testimony though a photograph may be, photographs, or images of photographs have come to play a critical role in the particular form of the graphic narrative that is the graphic memoir. At once personal memento and material witness, at once familial relic and visible evidence, the photographic snapshots “drawn and quartered” on the pages of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir offer a vestigial glimpse of all that photography still means within the affective economy of the historical work that is remembrance. Rendered and, at the same time, withheld, the reproduced and drawn photographs of her graphic memoir intimate the history and inheritance of the “pencil of nature” that was William Henry Fox Talbot’s photography, staking a claim to its evidential status even as they challenge its forms and its terms. Moreover, in ways that exceed the largely playful retrospective link forged between the contemporary practice of taking pencil in hand to draw photographically and Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature, Talbot’s album, like Bechdel’s memoir, holds within it photographs, portraits of a sort, that may bear equivocal witness to something as ineffable as desire.
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