projects > Paul

How does one recover a story, long after the fact, once the trail has long gone cold; when the main protagonists themselves have intentionally blurred the trail? History, for the most part, is the informed reconstruction of events; an effort to re-inhabit and to resuscitate the motives and experiences of individuals inhabiting a different time, and therefore, in essence, a different world. Photography, as a storytelling vehicle of history, has often fought to be on the frontlines, literally, of the historical event, the better to capture individual gestures and actions that grant entry to the larger story. In time, however, the idea that the truth of a moment might be easily captured via photographic apparatus has given away to a begrudging acknowledgement that even the most dramatic of images - from battlefields and press boxes - may still occlude the facts and reality of what happened, to whom—and most importantly, why. Matthew Brady’s battlefield portraits of the dead; Robert Capa’s The Fallen Soldier; W. Eugene Smith’s portrait of Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Gabon; all of these images once considered the epitome of capturing history up-close-and-personal have come to be accepted as either enacted or subtly reshaped for the purposes of telling the truth. As Doris Lessing has asserted, “There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.”

In Anthony Marchetti’s exploration of his grandmother’s life, the quest to bring personal history back into focus is further complicated by a consciously forgotten past—his grandmother’s flight from Szeged, Hungary in advance of the Russian army; a subsequent life of displacement in Germany; and her eventual escape to the United States, single and pregnant with Marchetti’s mother. Her fiancé would never join her, leaving her with a soon-to-be American daughter. Some sixty years after the original events, the drive to reconstruct and visualize this past is what animates this project. During the past few years, the photographer has retraced the possible route taken by his Grandmother through former Mitteleuropa, assembling a series of tantalizing details of place, the lush textures of real life absent the bracing presence of fact. A road through the forest that doubles as a grave; an enigmatic, watchtower raised on stick-thin, skeletal stairs; gaping, weed-choked manmade holes; the faint trace of luminous fog and frost at dawn; and the barest promise of blossoming spring along a wall of stacked timber. The accumulation of these and other scenes is full of implied narrative and almost-there anecdote that hovers on the edge of implication. These scenes, while wholly “real” as seen by the camera, become richly fictive in Marchetti’s cinematic reconstruction of his grandmother’s story. He is careful not to peer too balefully at what must have been to his grandmother, a tale best forgotten, allowing for an approach that is both indirect and obsessively concrete. Most critically, it is an approach that never gets locked into the traditional documentary stalemate, but rather leaves the past open for continual reassessment. These are the traces of lives and faded paths that history has left behind: where will they take us now?

-- Lesley A. Martin, Executive Editor, Aperture Foundation