S.MÉJEAN-PINNEY

© 2016 All rights reserved

War's Imagination: The Embodiments of an Image

“The human subject needs to protect itself against the loss of the object (i.e. the always absent real object of desire) and the loss of identity.” 1.

Suzanne Mejean returned at the end of last summer from an extended road trip of America. During her travels she visited military families around the country to find out how they cope with the deployment of loved ones. Initial research on this topic quickly led her to Elaine Dumler’s book I’m Already Home, and to the discovery of flat-daddies. Flat-daddies are life-sized photo portraits, primarily of fathers, offered to military families as a ready-made. They have enjoyed word-of-mouth popularity while websites post positive and humorous testimonials.
Communicating through Dumler’s newsletter, Mejean introduced her intention to make a film and photographs on the subject and sought families to visit. With a map of the US, a car, video and still cameras, plus thirty families to meet, she set off across America in June 2007. Her dizzying zigzag trip from the West Coast to the East, North, South and back put 17,000 miles on the car, captured one hundred hours of videotape and interviews, and recorded 150 still photographs that serve as a parallel, second narrative.
Five of these photographs are published here, environmental portraits of families and individual children. The images relinquish their documentary function to the video and interviews, allowing for a more vulnerable and contemplative frame. They provide a pause or oasis from the emotional stories of post-traumatic stress syndrome and extended tours of duty.
The subjects (visibly) and the photographer (invisibly) position themselves in these pictures, commemorating their shared encounter. Mejean’s work looks at how photographs capture the tensions and fears that surface when talking about death, loss, or desperate times, as well as the function and impact of the flat-daddy when everyday family life has been suspended. As a memory aide or a visual support for families, the images explore the psychological conditions that shape the relations between images, children, parents, and actual fathers. Meanwhile, spouses and children wait for the missing one to return.
At home and in Iraq or Afghanistan there are sensitivities that limit the scenes that can be seen, and what can be imaged or imagined. Daddy is both here and not here—he is over there in harm’s way and also here at the dinner table, in the van, on the porch, and at the football game. These familiar, uncanny, flattened bodies turn fathers into images or objects of affection, yet they are also disembodied selves stuck in the limbo of non-death. The security of being an object that can be touched and carried yields to the image that has been frozen in time; the illusion of security is nomadic and can easily be placed in a shadow world. An infinite number of selves can be reproduced, but mostly it is a binary affair—a military doppelganger. New and ambiguous histories proliferate. Flat-daddies appear to function in a liminal space/time continuum, between the real and the fictive. Time is alternatively delayed, repeated, and deployed in reverse, then and now folding in and upon each other.
Similarly, space relations acquire fantastic proportions as the doubled self can be in more than one place at a time. Flat-daddies become even more paradoxical when we begin to question the status of memory and selective amnesia. Questions emerge including what reality to refer to when an image is substituted for a father, and whether a real father can replace the flat daddy upon return from service. It is also necessary to consider what to do with a flat-daddy when the serviceman does not return, or returns with injuries that contradict the imaginary wholeness of the picture. These strange and uncharted relations may result in long-term effects.
The simple elegance of Mejean’s photographs returns a respectful gaze, offering additional time to consider the specificity of each person and locale. The images are mute, but not silent, slices of time where light returns from its journey through the interior and rests on the surface for us to see.

Robert Blake

1. Victor Burgin, quoted by Geoffrey Batchen, Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).


Suzanne Mejean lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
She Participated in Light Work's Artist-in-Residence program in January, 2007.


Robert Blake is a photographer, writer and video artist who resides in New York City and leads the General Studies Program at the International Center of Photography. ©2009-2013


Locations Filmed:
ALABAMA
Kelly, Alex and Lake Black

ARKANSAS
Ginny Adams

CALIFORNIA
Sherri, Mike and Shane Hutton
Michael and Michael-Alexander Little
Pat and Ken Schurman
Derek Fly

Virginia, Nicci, Sandra and Ryley Tallman

COLORADO
Jessica, Faith and Tyler Lundstrom
Sally and Cassandra Webster

Elaine Dumler

CONNECTICUT
Sandra, Louisa and Lucas Pearl

GEORGIA
Alaina and Savannah McDonald

KENTUCKY
Tammie, David and Michael Henderson

Marcella Gibson

LOUISIANA
Kathy and Sterlin Tatum

MAINE
Barbara Claudel

MICHIGAN
Nicole, Samantha, Ryan and Alyson Cadotte

MINNESOTA
Laura and Emma Cloose

Stacey, Lukas, Morgan, Ethan and Adam Bielke

MISSISSIPPI
Adrian, Ranae, Taylor, Gracie and Haley Caldwell
Calvin and Rakeshei Robinson
Samantha Wade
Holly, Madeline and Taylor Boyd
Miranda and Drew Goddard
Connie, Cailee Beth and Cora Yeilding

NORTH DAKOTA
Cindy Sorenson and Sarah Bruschwein

NEW JERSEY
Rhonda, Caroline, Trisha and Haley Dring

OHIO/SFC GRAPHICS
Eric Crockett
Gretchen Roundtree
Ryan Straube
Thomas Clark
Ryan Hertzfeld

TEXAS
Tammie, Luke and Cole Warren

Ashley and Logan Klein

Carey, Jacob, Rebekah, Stephen, Abigail and Daniel Quick

UTAH
Amaria, Creighton, Logan, Cassidy and McCall Scovil

VERMONT
Elizabeth, Oliver, Abigail and Ethan Roy

WASHINGTON
Allison, Ethan and Esther Buckholtz
Theresa and Kaitlyn Chelberg


 
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STILL HERE; A Documentary by Suzanne Mejean

Flat Daddies function at the intersection of what can be imaged and imagined. For children and their families the imaged “reinforcement” is meant to provide a seamless visual transition between the endpoints of deployment.

The life-sized portraits become flattened bodies turning fathers from images into objects of affection. The image-memory is held in place but when everyday life comes to a standstill how does one picture the tensions and fears that surface when talking about death, loss or desperate times?

Cut out and pasted onto a familiar backdrop of the American home: Flat Daddy is no longer merely a sign, nor is it simply a fleshed out incarnation of one who is missing; Rather, it is suspended in between, deployed in a fractured state. The personification of war itself breathes with its own ubiquitous imagination, coloring with unfamiliar lines an altogether different picture. Still Here NTSC/Color Documentary 74minutes Shining Sea Productions Copyright 2009

PRODUCER, DIRECTOR, CAMERA, SOUND, EDITOR
SUZANNE MEJEAN

MUSIC
HENRY WOLFE GUMMER AND OLIVER NEWELL

POST PRODUCTION/ON-LINE SUPERVISOR
LISA SCHOENBERG

SOUND MIX
CRAIG SMITH

 
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LOCATIONS FILMED

ALABAMA
Kelly, Alex and Lake Black

ARKANSAS
Ginny Adams

CALIFORNIA

Sherri, Mike and Shane Hutton
Michael and Michael-Alexander Little
Pat and Ken Schurman
Derek Fly

Virginia, Nicci, Sandra and Ryley Tallman

COLORADO
Jessica, Faith and Tyler Lundstrom

Sally and Cassandra Webster

Elaine Dumler

CONNECTICUT

Sandra, Louisa and Lucas Pearl

GEORGIA
Alaina and Savannah McDonald

KENTUCKY

Tammie, David and Michael Henderson

Marcella Gibson

LOUISIANA

Kathy and Sterlin Tatum

MAINE
Barbara Claudel

MICHIGAN
Nicole, Samantha, Ryan and Alyson Cadotte

MINNESOTA
Laura and Emma Cloose

Stacey, Lukas, Morgan, Ethan and Adam Bielke

MISSISSIPPI
Adrian, Ranae, Taylor, Gracie and Haley Caldwell

Calvin and Rakeshei Robinson

Samantha Wade

Holly, Madeline and Taylor Boyd

Miranda and Drew Goddard

Connie, Cailee Beth and Cora Yeilding

NORTH DAKOTA
Cindy Sorenson and Sarah Bruschwein

NEW JERSEY
Rhonda, Caroline, Trisha and Haley Dring

OHIO/SFC GRAPHICS
Eric Crockett
Gretchen Roundtree
Ryan Straube
Thomas Clark
Ryan Hertzfeld

TEXAS
Tammie, Luke and Cole Warren

Ashley and Logan Klein

Carey, Jacob, Rebekah, Stephen, Abigail
and Daniel Quick

UTAH

Amaria, Creighton, Logan, Cassidy and McCall Scovil

VERMONT
Elizabeth, Oliver, Abigail and Ethan Roy

WASHINGTON
Allison, Ethan and Esther Buckholtz

Theresa and Kaitlyn Chelberg

 
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Flag

Bismark, North Dakota

 
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Mike Hutton

Capistrano Ca

 
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Oliver Roy

Orwell, VT

 
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