Frames, Screens, Albums, Constructions: An Overview
This issue began as a kind of cross-genre exploration. It was to bring together
family photographs and texts and to do so within the context of an Internet journal.
As the issue began to come together all involved came to see the use of the Internet
as an added benefit. It was going to allow us to include not only images and texts
but to play with the capabilities of the net to reproduce moving images, to make
links to already constructed websites and to enable the posting of a new website.
The cover image of this issue marks these intersections. It came as a gift from one of the contributors. Building around a small frame, my friend Ruth Ost put together this mixed media composition. The work includes, not surprisingly, an old snapshot, texts, as well as buttons and fabric capturing well the strange but beautiful mixture that is this special issue. In many ways, it too is a kind of handwork. Having not yet fully mastered all of the technologies that are tapped into, the essays here are pasted together, images and sound lovingly spliced into text and images. These are all the work of women, mostly Jewish women engaging with
questions about their Jewishness in the realm of the quotidian, on the level of everyday life. They are works about home and family and traditions, and they are also works about friendship and other forms of intimacy. They ask questions about how we frame these relationships, asking us to look again at what is included or excluded from our own scrapbooks and photo albums. What do these images and traces of the past tell us about the present? The pieces gathered here ask these questions even as they extend these conversations. Here intimate images are both shared and juxtaposed in order to see what they might yield when we take them out of our family albums, where we know them best, and share them with a broader audience. And what happens when we frame these discussions around questions of American Jewishness?
Within the frame, at the top of the image printed on translucent paper, the text reads, "ode on a black and white image." Here the words are made literal, or not quite. This is not "a lyric poem of some length." Nor is it "a choric song of classical Greece, ... accompanied by a dance and performed at a public festival or as part of a drama."1 It is, however, a visual lyric now a part of a different kind of public display. As the cover of this issue, it introduces a number of different kinds of ruminations on the question of American Jews and family photography. And both within and on its frame it suggests certain themes, questions and images. There is friendship, closeness between women who may or may not be kin. The image is old, and, as one of the text on its face suggests, there is something "haunting" about working with these kinds of images, some trace of a past no longer known but longing to be known. The labor of remembrance2 is not an easy venture and what it yields is never neat. Instead, often what is produced is "a messy beauty." Trying to find the telltale signs of those no longer in our reach is elusive. Their "signature transparent," ephemeral. In these ways, the most ordinary can become extraordinary. These snippets of text have their own more intimate and more or less public echoes. They are part of a vocabulary Ruth and I now share. They are phrases familiar to those who know us, our students and our intimates. But, even so, the image at the heart of this piece remains just out of our grasp. The only thing we can control is the frame.
Here Ruth is literally all the more present. Atop the frame, draped and then pinned down by two buttons, is a piece of lace from her grandmother's worn, crocheted bedspread - a piece of Ruth's familial past, a tactile piece of her grandmother's legacy. She was a woman who took in laundry and loved to crochet. This love of making things by hand is something she passed down to her granddaughter.
But this gift is also about a kind of sharing across differences. On the bottom right hand corner of the frame is another button. This one is covered by a small colorful swatch of paper - a pink and brown flower outlined in metallic gold that not only covers the ivory button but also holds in place another piece of text. Here, outside the frame, fragile, placed at an angle but still clearly a part of the whole piece, are more familiar words, "Embracing the Problematic." These words echo the themes at the heart of my book, Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home3, complicated embraces, odd juxtapositions, tensions that are at the heart of both contemporary Jewish feminist identities and our most intimate relationships. Moreover, these are the kinds of words used by a certain kind of feminist academic at the very end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. These are the only words that begin with capital letters and the only words outside the frame. Positioned on the frame, they ask us to read, to see the entire work with them in mind. They are, in this sense, a kind of textual framework.