Bernard Yenelouis


The image, of what I believe is a Mother’s Day banquet, came into a larger project I had been working on by chance. The larger project is entitled How to Live in the City and it came about in thinking about the middle-class mid-20th century world Detroit of my parents. A portion of the project was grounded in academic research: Detroit as a paradigm of unbridled capitalism, transformed from a 19th century backwater by a ruthless Fordist system of cultural and economic consolidation. The Fordist logic demanded assimilation and compliance from its workers, transforming them into consumers, & it prompted an economic expansion on a scale which peaked after WWII and which has been in a state of decay since the oil crisis of the 1970s.  Fordism itself now appears as a historical relic, for which we have no physical memories except in photographic scraps (& even then it is usually concealed by family customs, leisure, the picturesque). I began reading Antonio Gramsci on Fordism: Gramsci’s idea is that in an ahistorical culture such as the US, all aspects of life become a site of production. Beyond the factory all life looks to the idea of the factory as its model: the photograph, the family snapshot, begins to look like a response to such a call. At which point by sheer chance (I was looking for something else), I found this photograph, which is of my family: my devoutly Catholic grandmother sits at a table of priests, which would have been a point of status & honor for her. My mother and father sit opposite my grandmother, and if I recall correctly the outfit my mother is wearing was a maternity outfit, which means that she would have been pregnant with me. My aunt sits adjacent to my grandmother, dressed more primly (she never married). I am struck by the predominance of cigarettes & priests & a general grimness to the event, & also the figure of Kathleen, a long-time family friend, who stands in the doorway. Kathleen has a curious “odd girl out” presence in the image, which otherwise appears to me as a kind of infernal circle of domestic order. I have no memories or stories to attach to the image, although I think I know about my mother’s dress. & I am guessing it is Mother’s Day as my grandmother was routinely gifted with a corsage of cymbidium orchids on that day. The framing, the palette of colors, & the odd details like the row of photographic portraits that suggest they are identical – it all floats to me now like some weird, artificial skin.