Jennifer Steensma Hoag


“Separation” is a video loop that compares, contrasts and conflates: death and slumber, Victorian memento mori and contemporary video, fact and fiction, imagination and memory, love and loss.

In Victorian times, child mortality rates were very high and it was customary to take photographs of recently deceased loved ones posed in peaceful slumber. Frequently this was the only visual image one would have of a child. The photograph would be reminiscent of time spent watching the little one sleep – physically present, but consciously somewhere else. The photograph, while serving as a document of the child’s appearance and prompting memories, also consoled because Victorians believed their loved ones continued on in spirit and they would be reunited with them in heaven. “Separation” uses the historical custom of the memento mori to simultaneously address our death-fearing and death-denying culture and our obsession with the photographic snapshot.

A child born today will have countless images made of their likeness, documenting each milestone and event. Our photographs are our memory. We photograph to preserve moments and prove to ourselves events happened. All these images, however, put us no closer to stopping time or holding on to those we love. Unless we see the images as what they are – delightful artifacts of our temporal journey – they only remind us how quickly time passes and how much we have lost.