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Photography (MA)

Francesca Hummler

Francesca Hummler is a German-American visual artist working with photography and video. She received her B.A. in Media Arts and B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego in 2019. In 2022 she completed a Photography Masters with distinction at The Royal College of Art in London, England.

Interested in identity, she draws from her experience as the daughter of German immigrants in the United States to explore familial intimacy and generational trauma. Heavily influenced by the concept of photo-therapy, Francesca often utilizes self-portraiture to untangle her sense of self. Recently she was selected as one of the laureates of the 2021 Carte Blanche award for her series "Unsere Puppenstube" or "Our Dollhouse" and displayed her work at Paris Photo.


Upcoming exhibitions:

25-30 June, ‘RCA Graduate Show, 2022’. Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom.

15-19 August, ‘After The Waiting Room’. Copeland Gallery, London, United Kingdom.

Full CV Available Here

Show Location: Battersea campus: Dyson & Woo Buildings, First floor

My graduate project, Das Kuckucksei, or Cuckoo's Egg, expands on themes I considered in my series Unsere Puppenstube or Our Dollhouse. I am primarily interested in investigating my family’s structure and how the experiences of older generations have shaped the lives of their children. Our Dollhouse was about my youngest sister and her experience of being adopted into our family. As she is one of its youngest members, I traveled to the small rural town of Plüderhausen, Germany, to photograph my grandparents for this work. 

 

Since I grew up away from my extended family in the US, this project draws on my discoveries about my family during talk sessions with my grandparents. Their stories include history from the Second World War, family dynamics, conservative religious beliefs, customs around food, gendered patterns of abuse, and invisible psychological or physical illnesses. Engaging my grandparents in this form of photo-therapy reaffirmed my belief that trauma is passed down through generations. For example, my grandfather’s experience of evacuation from Stuttgart due to heavy bombing, to live away from his parents in a family of strangers in the Schwabish Alps, directly impacted my mother’s upbringing. In turn, this affected how I was raised, inheriting wounds from a culture that I grew up outside of.

 

This sentiment reflects the fact that trauma lives on in the body, rather than solely in the archive. My work relates to the concept of postmemory as theorized by Marianne Hirsch. Postmemory describes the relationship that the “generation after” bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before. It explains how my body “remembers” experiences I only had through the stories, images, and behaviors of my family members. This work fuses my therapeutic self-portraiture practice with the photo-therapy with which I engage my family. The series highlights my grandparents and myself, as characters with intertwined trajectories despite the physical distance between us for much of our lives.

 

I have attached this work to the German preposition “zu”. Zu indicates where someone or something is headed and occurs both in Zufall, chance, and in Zukunft, future. As my family’s formation was an occurrence of zufall, so is my zukunft and who becomes a part of my family now is completely up to chance. My work comes from a very personal place, but my audience is anyone who has ever felt like a cuckoo's egg, out of place in their own home or, detached from their family, or struggling with their cultural identity. With my camera, I will continue to search for the source of this feeling within myself.

Opa im TeppichraumMy grandfather at age 87 after coming back from an eye doctor's appointment. He had just been informed that he will completely lose his eyesight in his left eye.
Pareidolia
Young Family
Oma's Breakfast
A Response To My Parents' Wedding VideoA performance filmed on VHS. The artist uses her hair and hands to scrub her grandmother's wedding portrait off of her back.

Interventions made using family photographs and a print-making UV photopolymer plate transfer process.

Marzipan Necklace
American Spread on German Bread
Tooth Inspection
Spitzenstoff Shroud
Der Kartoffelkönig
Das Loch
Walnut Surprise
Found in a Drawer
Entrance
Der Stammbaum
Das Badezimmer
Alte Küche
Playroom
Die Zeiten
Weihnachtsfest
Victory

I have been photographing my younger sister for over ten years. I started taking it more seriously when she expressed to me her disappointment over not having any photographs of herself as a baby, from the time before our family adopted her. Our photography projects can be seen as photo-therapy, because the act of photographing helps build her self-confidence, untangle her identity as a young black girl in our German-American family, and battle any insecurities she, like many other adolescents, may have about her appearance. This series in particular deals with the adverse and borderline racist reactions my parents received from our extended family in Germany when she was first adopted and her need to remember what little knowledge she has about her biological family. 

Here she peers into a dollhouse that was first constructed by our great grandparents, continued by our grandparents, and finished by our father. My sister and I furnished the dollhouse together with items that have been passed down through our family’s generations, including a clock handmade by my great-grandmother. This act symbolizes the legitimacy of her claim to my family’s generational memory, despite possible objections from ignorant relatives. In fact, my great-grandmother, who never had the chance to meet my sister, also adopted a child who was orphaned during World War II. 

The way my sister interacts with the dollhouse mimics occurrences of situational feelings of outsideness. An example of which being when my mother and I converse in Schwäbisch, the dialect of German that we speak, around her. This work felt important to make because my relationship with my sister is often thrown into question, especially by strangers in public, who try to decode how we fit together. Photography allows me to express the responsibility I feel to emotionally support my sister through any challenges she may face as a result of growing up in a white family, especially as the United States continues to be divided along racial lines. The audience for this work is anyone who has ever felt out of place although they belong. I expect that racial relations will come to be less foregrounded than they are now, as the love I have for my sister becomes more common.