At the heart of this series, I am re-envisioning the changes in my family’s life following my father’s death, the self imposed exile that occurred, and the depression that followed. As a documentarian, I am interested in the diasporic state of the Filipino family unit. However, as a work in progress, this project begins from my personal history and labors to look outside, eventually.
By overlapping images from different times and places, I am not only trying to stay in touch with what I feel I have lost. I am attempting to transmute what has long felt traumatic and to be reborn.
Your absence has gone through me / Like thread through a needle. / Everything I do is stitched with its color. (W. S. Merwin)
Interview with Lawrence Sumulong
(by Anna Mola)
Anna Mola: The title is “In Answer” but what’s – in a figurative sense – the question?
Lawrence Sumulong: How does one keep things whole? I am sincerely trying to respond to the disorientations emerging from my new family unit, the evolving questions of identity that arise from my Asian American experience, and the fraught search for (as Antoine D’agata alludes to) a subject position to photograph from.
An influence on this work was the late Tim Hetherington’s video entitled “Diary”. As a young photographer, I continually check in with that piece because I feel it’s a poetic account of how an individual comprehends disparate encounters with conflict and trauma throughout time and in memory.
So, a corollary to my original question is “how does the soul translate and contend with what overwhelms us?”
A. M.: In your pictures, we can see both dramatic moments and bright colors: I notice a joy also in your images. How you can explain this “mix” of drama and playfulness?
L. S.: To be transparent, it’s the mind in contest with itself. I was experimenting with a visual approach that could express the joy I felt when photography allowed me to exert control over what had afflicted me and my family while still showing those moments of affliction themselves. It may, in a way, be naïve, but when I look at these images I’m not necessarily returning to the emotional moments that produced those photos. I’m embracing something else.
It also served as a stylistic precursor for a video that I recently finished with videographer, Ronnie Bhardwaj.
A. M.: I know this project is a work in progress, but do you think it’s possible to arrive at an “end”? I mean: a point where you can consider complete this work?
L. S.: I can conceive of the autobiographical component of the project closing with a visual account of a family reunion.
My grandmother on my mother’s side used to have these grand get-togethers in Manila at the small hotel that she runs, though it has been a decade since the last reunion. My extended family of whom I am fond of is quite diverse because of interracial marriages, and cousins vary in age, skin color, religious belief, sexual orientation, etc.
We often speculate within the family as to when the next big reunion will occur, but more often than not conflicting schedules and life plans mean that a firm date eludes us. I fear that it might be my grandmother’s funeral that will bring us all together. Whatever the scenario, I feel that a family reunion is a fitting end or at least a caesura to a series that began as a meditation on my father’s death. It might be a completely different project.