Justin Carney

and the disappearing has become
Location: Indianapolis
Nationality: American
Biography: Justin A. Carney is an artist and educator that uses autobiographical photography to question how death and grief affect familial connections—the bonds that keep a family together and cause them to separate, and how grief shapes an... MORE
Public Story
and the disappearing has become
Copyright Justin Carney 2023
Updated Jan 2022
Location Array
Topics Abstract, Family, Fine Art, Photography, Spotlight

and the disappearing has become is an embodiment of the ephemerality of memory and a search for the complex bond that is passed down through family history beyond genealogy. Being raised by a single mother and grandmother in Baltimore, Maryland, I learned the value of family. My immediate family was an anchor, a comfort, a needed support, and my main source of joy as I experienced hardships in life. After witnessing my grandmother’s death in our house, I realized how temporary life is, and realized, in time, how quickly memories fade without my control. Years since my grandmother’s passing, I’ve forgotten many aspects about her and it is haunting to know that one day I will forget my family’s faces, their laugh, and how it felt to be next to them. What will become of me when they pass, and I am the one left behind? I fear that future. 

and the disappearing has become uses photography, mono-printing techniques, and erasing with sandpaper in order to embody the process of forgetting. The photographs are of important everyday moments of family gatherings, events, and places. The gestural act of sanding and painting on the photographic image works to claim this unconscious process of forgetting as a necessary part of life, of me, rather than as something harmful. Death and oblivion are occurrences of disintegration but not of destruction. By mixing elements of control and uncontrol, creating abstractions and photographic representations, the work exists on two levels: the physical and the mental, both affecting each other simultaneously. Abstraction elicits emotion, reaction, feeling, an inward realm of experience and representation grounds those emotions in a lived experience. 

In the materials nature to hide, obscure, and abstract, it reveals a connection that surpasses death, that lives beyond the photograph, beyond the fallacy of memory. Even when the subject is erased in the image, its silhouette remains as a ghost, forever there but illegible. Certain elements in the photographs are left legible as a metaphor about how people are more than just their bodies, their faces, and the events shared. What remains after death is something that is engrained, something imprinted on our very souls. When a family member dies, the things that are left are their effects, clothes, objects, cups, beds, accessories, and the places they’ve been. We embed meaning into belongings, and these possessions are retained and treasured. What is not often recognized is that the people left behind after a passing are things too and we hold meaning. Meaning was embedded inside of us by our loved ones. Although faces may not be remembered, the person and their effect on us, their affect for us, that shaped us, is engrained into our very DNA. Form may change but it does not disappear. Even in passing, we still have hold of each other, though we may not see it. 

Through sharing my own struggles to cope with my family’s death, the photographs open a door for conversation about death and healing in our community. The fear of losing a loved one and the pain after losing one can be debilitating but we are not alone. The ephemerality of our bodies and our memories makes our relationships with our loved ones that much stronger and causes us to appreciate the time we do have. Although bodies and memories dissolve, the ones we love will forever remain etched into the fabric of our being.

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