Band 5/6 50th Gate with The Photographer and The Gulf Documentary

Memory is an integral part of history, in which individual recollection and authentic emotions heighten our ability to emphathise with clinical history, creating a humanized holistic cultural reflection, a narrative both emotionally and interllectually salient. Mark Baker’s historical non-fiction text “The Fiftieth Gate” presents a bricolage of fragmented circulatory recounts and historical record creating a holistic, culturalised representation of the holocaust. Similarly, “The Photographer” by Guibert, Lefervre and Lemercier, is a photojournal recounting the harsh realities of the USSR occupation of Afghanistan with personal recollections that produce a vivid memoir of war and poverty torn Afghanistan.  National Geographic’s “The Gulf of Oil” explores the complex interplay between statistical evidence, confronting photographs and individual anecdotes in order to create a more reliable representation of the after-effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Baker’s Fiftieth gate juxtaposes the historian representation of factual evidences surrounding the Holocaust and the personal memoirs of his parents to fulfil his quest for a collective truth. This is further emphasised through the structure of a Midrash in which he presents his non-fiction recount in “two distinctive voices, that of my parents embedded in my historical documentary”, enshrining the ‘truth of personal accounts with the cold factual evidence of documentation. However, Baker demonstrates that personal memory is often selective, full of gaps and silences reiterating their unreliability, in which Baker must “turn to history” after he has “exhausted [their] memory”. This is further emphasised through the juxtaposition of memory with history, his fathers inaccurate recount of events, “he says it was cold. Winter, but it was warm. Autumn”. Ironically only through these schizophrenic accounts and ambiguous misrepresentation can the audience inference Yossl’s distressing experience in which distorted and selective memory emphasise the trauma and emotion of victims. Only through personal anecdotes can the raw, emotional turmoil associated with Holocaust victims emerge. Baker illustrates this through the rhetorics “How can you be so sure? Were you there? You think because you’ve read a few pieces of paper that you suddenly understand everything?” in which the audience can perceive the important and essentiality of memory in providing a holistic cultural history.

Similarly, Guibert’s monochromatic photo journal juxtaposes a photographic record of the Afghan War with illustrated anecdotes representing his personal experiences to create a multifaceted historical episode, similar to that of Baker in 50th Gate. Guibert’s personal memory is clouded by representations of fear and euro-centric paranoia… Here, dramatic, colorised illustrations of “an ogre whom terrified me…standing amongst sheep that look like poodles” supersede the well-lit grey photographs which communicate no such fear or anxiety. Rather, the photographic evidence illustrates a wide angle shot of a vacant valley and a lone, tall Mujahedeen standing amongst his flock. Like Baker, Guibert assumes the position of a historian. His photographs of bomb victims from Russian attacks depict the unemotional historical recording of “a boom blast at dawn, 1km from the village,” constructed through a reel of black and white film of disfigured children. The same event however, is also framed through emotional distress, much like Yossl. “I throw myself down… I cry silently, to avoid disturbing [them]” The use of negative space and noir like illustrated graphics communicate a deep emotional trauma for Guibert that his ‘record’ photography fails to capture. Thus it is only through the hindsight of these personal reflections and photographic records that the revelation of Guibert’s experiences in Soviet-War Afghanistan can be put in context. A justification for the pragmatic and amoral ‘pastoral life’ that is the way of life for the Afghan people.

Conversely, Baker further emphasises the importance of memory to convey authentic representations of the agony and suffering of those whom survived the Holocaust, un- achievable solely through the cold, numerical facts of history. Initially Baker emphasises this through short truncated sentences “No. No. No. Don’chu dare. Don’chu dare. No.… tonight I known he will not sleep… not until he feels safe enough” in which the ‘unrecorded’ personality of Yossl, a victim of the Holocaust conveys the intangible mental trauma which continues to haunt him. This is further highlighted through Yossl’s desire “I wish I could forget what I remember”, in which memory is seen to plague him, reviving unforgettable traumatic experiences. These after effects of trauma are explored by Baker through his observation “my father, grown older by half a century speaks in the present tense as if time has not passed”, in which only through acknowledging unrecorded personalities of the Holocaust can we begin to imagine the resonance of significant events, in which raw emotion remains unforgettable. It is only through these personal untainted anecdotes can a true understanding of the ‘truth’ be obtained, thus highlighting the interplay between history and memory in which both are essential to obtain a collective history.

Another text which explores the interplay of facts and personal perceptions upon an event is “The Gulf of Oil”, in which statistics, facts and reports are combined with confronting photographic documentation to create a cultural reflection upon the Gulf of Mexico prior to the oil spill of April 20th‑ 2010. The statistics provided through a series of geographic mapping data as well as exerts from intern reports “645000 jobs” and “40,000 tonnes of solid waste” seeks to encapsulate the damage done to the region. However, the deeply felt impact of the disaster is only told through the personal experiences of fishermen and scientists seeking to save the Gulf.
Here, photographs of a dead turtle floating in the foreground covered in brown sludge coupled with the statistics “500 sea turtles died”, create a resonant reflection of events. The impactful nature of images and photography and further emphasized through a closeup shot of a pelican, covered in crude oil, eyes closed in defeat, however in this case “the pelican survived”. Thus only through resonant combinations of anecdotal images combined with the recorded statistical data does a collective account of the BP oil disaster emerge.

Thus it is evident that history and memory are both reliable to a certain extent, however due to the interplay between the two it is often difficult to achieve a reliable recount of an event. The subjectivity of human memory can be seen either to validate or context history, seen in “The Fiftieth Gate”, “The Photographer” and “The Gulf of Oil”. Hence it is necessary for authors to obtain a balance between history and memory to convey a holistic cultural reflection.



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