Grounded, Samantha Jackson

Grounded is a photo series and exhibition that portrays the struggle for familial understanding. It documents my journey to discover and understand the relationship with my deceased paternal grandfather, who I have never met. Starting with only archival images and my grandfather’s unpublished novel, I set off to London, Ontario. This is the city where my grandfather started his career as a charter pilot and where he raised his family in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The photographs that came out of this journey use archival images from my grandfather’s naval yearbook and text from the manuscript as the historical references for my contemporary images of London, Ontario taken between September to December 2020.

Family histories are often complex and constructed entities, and part of my goal with this series was to challenge the idea of a happy, perfect family structure. The exhibition visibly refers to barriers, reflection, and loss, elements of the family narrative that are frequently hidden from the public. The sequencing of the series references the three stages of my personal journey I made while producing this project: discovery, reflection, and acceptance. A quotation by Roland Barthes influenced this project. In Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1981), he wrote, “pictures of family and friends are visible reminders of former appearances, inviting us to reflect on ‘what has been.’” Grounded intentionally leans into the uncomfortable aspects of my family history that have been left out of my family narratives: a sudden family death and a relative missing from my life, depicting these feelings through visual scars and physical barriers. I hope that this photo series and exhibition will inspire viewers to examine their own construction of family history, embrace uncomfortable subjects within their family narratives, and start conversations with their loved ones while they still have the chance.

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