Public history

An Interactive and Active Collective: Media as Relational and Entangled Objects

This paper draws upon different media, their contents, close relationships to lived life, and the memories and stories evolving around them. Challenging linear historical time, the paper looks at the interconnectedness of different media and how these connections and constellations shape histories. The different media analysed in this paper are perceived as an interactive and active collective of “ongoing moments” (Dyer 2007) and nodes that reinforce each other and relate to different audiences (e.g., Edwards 2009). As both performances of the past and living objects triggering memories and the making of histories, our source materials cover approximately seventy years and refer to a broad array of actors, experiences, relationships, places, and spaces within the wider context of the work of the Swiss Magnum photographer Werner Bischof who was commissioned by Schweizer Spende to travel war-ravaged Europe after the Second World War. More particularly, the paper concentrates on how a photographic portrait of a Dutch boy, Jo Corbey, taken in the town of Roermond in 1945, came to life, why and how it was made, and how it circulated and got entangled with other media in a meshwork of meaning making (e.g., Ingold 2015). Materials and sources discussed include Bischof’s diary entries, drawings, and contact sheets, the May 1946 issue of the Swiss monthly Du dedicated to Schweizer Spende, family photographs and newspaper clippings, as well as a 2010 photography exhibition (plus catalogue) in Helmond, Holland, and a 2011 interview with Corbey’s twin brother and sisters, which was recorded by Marco Bischof, co-presenter of this paper. Thematically, we will focus on the story of Corbey’s identification and the different stories that evolved around his life, and discuss the involvement of different actors as a collective or inter-relational conglomerate of media and humans who added their own stories, rationales, and memories. The image appeared in different print formats, was shown in exhibitions, and inspired TV shows and films while at the same time initiating debates on children and war, promoting humanitarian action, triggering memories of the past, and helping to break silences on war experiences. In sum, the paper will demonstrate how media travel back and forth between the margins and the center of history by virtue of their relational qualities as social objects.

http://hdl.handle.net/10993/37571