“DNA is the fundamental and distinctive characteristic or quality of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.”

The enigmatic puzzle of the lives portrayed in vintage family photographs is intriguing. Who are the people in the stacks of photographs I inherited? How did their DNA determine who they were and how did it impact the following generations? Is it really possible to learn anything about a person from a photograph? Or, is it a narrative that has been passed down to us? Pondering these questions, I sifted through family photographs to see if gestures and faces alone could give us clues. Focusing on certain gestures and facial expressions, VISUAL DNA…the language of photographs introduces another way of deciphering information in photographs and encourages the viewer to ask what is the most important part of an image.

Reading parts of the photograph allows the viewer to interpret the image through their own experiences. Roland Barthes in “Camera Lucida” talks about studium, the intention of a photograph, and punctum, the unknown part of the image that “pricks” one’s imagination. Since we all view images in different ways, this series encourages us to intimately participate in our own unique and personal involvement with each image. Mysterious connections create a different reality, or punctum, for each viewer. Barthes says “its mere presence changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value.”

Influenced by vernacular photography, this series references John Baldassari’s photographs that used colored circles to hide the faces and to put the focus on gestures. John Sular’s Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche reminds us that “Although a photograph cannot record body movement over time, as does video, it excels in portraying the essence of a person disclosed through body language at a particular moment in time.”

Using family vintage photographs, the series suggests the passing of time and the fading nature of memory. The images challenge us to read and interpret a photograph filling in the visual language and context as best we can.

- Ellen Cantor

Ellen Cantor is a Southern California artist who uses the camera to reimagine the family photo album and objects that hold personal histories in order to explore the distillation and persistence of memory.

She received a BS from The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and continued her education at UCLA. She has studied photography at Santa Fe Workshops, Maine Media Workshop and The Los Angeles Center of Photography. Her work has been featured in 18 solo exhibitions in galleries across the country. She was a Critical Mass finalist in 2015 and 2016 and winner of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers as well as first place in the Fine Art category. Since 2016, she has participated in over 50 national and international group exhibitions including the Italian Cultural Exchange in Naples, Italy.

Ellen is listed under Modern Photographers on the website www.all-about-photo.com. Her photographs have been published in Harper’s Magazine, Muzée Magazine, SHUTR Magazine, Professional Photographer, Southwest Review and online in Lenscratch, f-stopmagazine, fraction magazine, rfotofolio, Voyage LA Magazine, My Daily Photograph, Lightleaked, a photo editor, Float Online Magazine, thisiscolossal and Silvershotz.

Her work is available at dnj Gallery, Susan Spiritus Gallery and Commotion Gallery.

Visit Ellen Cantor’s site