In the essay Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes speaks about the fact that he was emotionally touched when looking at a photograph. He was looking at a family portrait of unknown people. But even though he didn’t know them, he was still overwhelmed by a feeling of empathy.
He was unable to pinpoint the source of this feeling. But afterwards he realized that a woman in the picture was wearing a necklace. And then he remembered the necklace that an old auntie used to wear when he was little. An auntie who lived her entire life with his mother and had known a rather boring life. He had always felt sadness when he thought of her. Later Barthes described it as if the picture of the unknown family had worked “within” him.
– Victor Burgin
The general idea for this work came from an interest in the western. Because it’s a film genre unlike any other with a very specific set of story conventions and with its own visual language. This interest lead to a fascination with the role of the woman in the traditional western genre. Traditionally, the woman has a very passive role in the western. When I was playing around with this idea an image kept popping up into my mind. It was an image of John Ford’s The Searchers.
In The Searchers a group of men go out chasing a kidnapped girl not knowing that the search will have a duration of seven years. During the film they return home only a few times. And each time they are welcomed by their wife’s who stay at home during their search and who’s only function is to wait for their return. Each time a specific kind of image returns, only for a few seconds. A picture of a woman standing on her front porch, looking out over the vast desert waiting to welcome the search party on their return.
I came to realize that this image had become a satellite image for me, representing the narrative of The Searchers. But also representing the role of women in the western genre. I am interested in the mechanism of associations of images and memories that reside in our memory. Today we live in a society of images and in a mass-culture. People are being confronted with the same kind of images every day. As a mass of people we are trained to decode and accept various image conventions flawlessly.
In a way the collective memory is filled with ready-made images and meanings that sometimes can even be interpreted on a cross cultural scale. We can use this matrix of images and meanings to communicate with an enormous audience that shares a culture of images.
In this work I wanted to reflect on the role of women in the western. So I decided to use the image that was imprinted on my memory. Hoping it would trigger a memory with others as well. I wanted to relate to the subject matter of a western, in specific that of The Searchers, to provide a different perspective. We stand together with a woman. Waiting and staring into the empty desert. Not knowing if the men will return or not.
Writing & direction: Karel De Cock
Photography: Karel De Cock
Technical Assistance: Hans Bruch Jr.
With: Lotte Knaepen
Griet Van Reeth,
Dorothee Van Den Berghe,
Running time A: 5:00
Running time B: Loop
Screening A: Projection
Screening B: Single screen, projection
Format Betacam, Stereo