Scans from my Aunt Maria’s Photo Album | Maria Samper

A few years before my mother was born, my grandmother gave birth to a stillborn girl. They were going to name her Maria. I’ve often wondered who she would have been. If my mother had still been born and had me and named me Maria, who would I have been having her in my life? 

For this project, I brought my aunt Maria to life. I sifted through various online archives and found a large selection of photographs that I felt I could cohesively weave together into the life story of a single person. I began with a general idea of what she would have looked like, based on the genetic traits from that side of my family: brown hair, brown or dark blue eyes, lightly tanned white skin. I began looking for themes in the photographs: she often interacts with animals, and has a performative side that loves theatre. At the end of my search, as I was picking the final images, I began to think ‘no, that doesn’t look like her’ or ‘no, she’d never do that’ – it was so easy for me to believe the fabrication I was designing, even in the middle of its creation. I really wanted it to be real, and when I think about it now, it does feel as if I’m reminiscing about the memories of a distant yet beloved relative. I swear, I look at the very last image of her in that green-striped tank top and it’s like I’ve known her my whole life. 

There is an inarguable power in the image. Guy Debord talks about this in The Society of the Spectacle. Images are king, we believe them more than we believe our rational mind. We desperately want to weave the two together. No wonder it took no time at all for my own brain to start seeing these disparate images as a chronology, a pattern. Debord writes that in a society of the spectacle “images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever.” The first thing I thought about when I read that sentence was Instagram, our specially curated digital albums. If creating this person was so easy, through the simulated medium of the photo album, what should we consider about modern album-style mediums such as Instagram? They create their own unity from disjointed images, as effective and convincing as my creating a simulated life story through this grouping of images and text. 

It doesn’t feel so pointless for me anymore to wonder about my aunt Maria. Somehow this project created her for me, created a life that I feel would have suited her and made her happy. It’s given me some peace to offer her that life.