Image & Memory
Conveying the depth of the American immigrant experience
The concept of collective memory was first introducted by Maurice Halbwachs in his book La Mémoire collective, published in 1950—five years after he died in Buchenwald.
By his reckoning, a society can have a collective memory, giving shape to the identity and values of the group, in addition to the memories of individuals. If this is true, then there exists a group memory that exists outside of the individual that shapes their understanding and perception of the past.
Because the collective memory of a society is malleable, it seems important to remind ourselves of how those memories reflect our ideals and values. Within the current political discourse in the United States, the subject of immigration has become both emotional and political and seems distant from the actual history of immigration that shaped the founding of our country.
On the one hand, we are all immigrants and one of our founding principles has been the pursuit of happiness and opportunity for everyone, whomever they are and wherever they are from. But U.S. history betrays another truth: Our borders have been open when it is convenient, even profitable, but at other times, we have been less than welcoming.
Would it be possible to create a series of images that represents this tangled collective memory but also contributes to some clarity?