Imperial Photographs: The Reconquest Of Memories

Christian ​Fuchs, photographer and genealogy dendrologist (I’ll explain that later), has inherited a lot of memories. You see, he travels with not only his own but with (at least) a Century’s worth—and not just any other memories, but dislocated ones. The weight of this inheritance became apparent to him when, as a child growing up in Lima, Peru, he came across the photo albums of his grandparents. In them, he found a trail that led back to Chile and then to Germany, where his grandparents had originally come from. This moment marked his introduction to photography and, simultaneously, revealed the power of images to withhold nostalgia, history and that feeling of no-longer-there; what memories are made of. It was on his recent visit to Berlin that I caught up with Fuchs along the Tiergarten to talk trees, geneaology, and the cultural value of photographs.

Taking Root

If I playfully write that Christian Fuchs is a geneaology dendrologist, is because a great part of his work deals with the study of his family tree. As we walk along the Tiergarten on Ebertstaße towards Brandenburger Gate, he tells me about his affinity for the symbolism of a tree: one can only see a portion of its totality ; the roots – crucial grounding agents and storage units of energy – exist below the surface.

Artist Christian Fuchs among the trees in the Tiergarten, Berlin. Photo: Chris Phillips

Finding the roots of his ancestral past in the photo albums of his grandparents, especially at such a young age, was not only a revelation but also a responsibility. It left a young Fuchs with the task to understand his place in his family’s lineage and to put together the puzzle of how time in Germany and Chile all condensed now in Peru. Perhaps more importantly to a young creative mind, it left a boy questioning how, when he came of age, would his own photographs look like. Let me show you:

"Rahue," 2009, digital photomontage, 60x60cm. Image courtesy of Christian Fuchs.

Artparasites: I like to think as art as a tree as well: you only see half of it on the surface. Some artists paint pictures, but what they’re really making are hammers (objects calling for action), love letters (objects of devotion), mirrors (objects where to reflect and better understand themselves), or doors (passages into other realities). What’s below the surface of your photographs: hammers, love letters, mirrors, or doors?

Christian Fuchs: They are mirrors to the extent that they reflect many parts of me, for all the elements I use are part of my history, part of my family; my predecessors that are all a part of me and I of them.

"Willkommen sagt Wilhelmine," 2009, digital photomontage, 83x143cm. Image courtesy of Christian Fuchs.

If I refer to Fuchs’ inheritance as dislocated memories, it is because, as we walk over the ground of Berlin (both Christian and I “belonging” to other grounds), a thought strikes me: the photographs found inside his grandparents' albums, the ancestors of today’s JPEGs, are physical, cultural capital to a migrant. To his grandparents, those photographs meant more than just memories; they were a reaffirmation of historical roots and a tangible antidote against identity amnesia. 

"Daydreaming," 2010, digital photomontage, 57x86cm. Image courtesy of Christian Fuchs.

Today, Christian Fuchs appropriates the images from those albums into his work. Surprisingly, their antidote is still strong enough, for it also provides Fuchs with enough content to understand himself better. His photographs seem to retrace steps that, even though his feet did not physically make, are very much a part of his path; where he's been and where he's going.

Christian Fuchs [Price range of works: $1,000 – $5,000]

Article by Jovanny Varela Ferreyra