EXPOSURE IN VIVO
My grandpa has been a consistently tumultuous figure in my family. He returned severely damaged from his nine months as a starved and violently interrogated German prisoner of war in World War II. Functioning through the remnants of his untreated traumatic experiences, he raised a family in a physically and psychologically abusive household, governed by alcoholism and nonsensical rules. Furthermore, he worked as a mortician, habitually taking from those he embalmed and bringing a desensitized relationship with death back to his six children. This traumatic environment cultivated self-destruction and dysfunction amongst the children, leading to suicide, addiction, and life-long struggles. Misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when mental illness was little understood, my Grandpa was never properly re-diagnosed, leaving the family to make sense of and adapt to his erratic behavior. The legacy of my grandfather’s experience in war, probable mental illness, and resultant abuse of his family has mutated and transmitted itself through the generations. For this project, I use the camera to disrupt the pattern of silence that has guarded my family’s dysfunction, while redefining experiences and relationships within my grandfather’s environment.
To make this body of work, I asked members of my family to return from their scattered locations to the family home in Missouri. This process mimics the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, referred to as exposure in vivo, through which subjects are directed to return to the physical location of a trauma and confront it in order to heal. The photographs I make in these locations are reconstructions of stories from the past, as well as observations of each descendant’s reimmersion into this historically charged location. In addition, I excavate the space, searching for clues and evidence of dysfunction amongst my grandfather’s hoarded food, decaying collections and neglected animals.