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2019 SPE Annual Conference: The Myths of Photography and the American Dream / Major support by The Joy Family Legacy Foundation

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Rebekah Flake

SPE Member since 2014
Member Chapter: Mid-Atlantic


Through my work I investigate nostalgia and tourism at sites where national identities are exhibited in contemporary culture. My research-based work speaks to the intersection of social history and personal experience as a woman confronting historical monuments in the public sphere traditionally constructed by and for males. Till Death Do Us Part is a series compiled from work in various locations where I have significant personal ties--and which all exhibit the traces of past division and segregation.

I use documentary methodologies combined with personal content to make photographs and videos that challenge my own relationship to well-known tourist locations and to the social and political expectations presented by these leisure activities. For example, in my current multimedia project Niagara, I am raising questions of photography, place, self, citizenship, borders and tourism. Niagara is both about the natural monument Niagara Falls and its role as an international border between the United States and Canada. Niagara is significant because my mother is Canadian and, even after 35 years living in the U.S., she has never pursued American citizenship.

In the past I have worked with historical reenactments, public memorials, autobiographical performances and experimental geography. I recently collaborated with the curators at a project space in Philadelphia for a public event about the Civil War, which commented on the relevance of the war to Philadelphians and I made a documentary-style film about the proximity of Philadelphia to the Mason-Dixon line, responding to spending my childhood in Mississippi, but my adulthood in the North. In a separate exhibition I displayed photographs from monuments in the U.S., Europe and Africa that demonstrate the conflicted relationships tourists have to memorials. The flux of photography as record and photography as activity is never resolved.

I am committed to exploring how the public record and state-sponsored memorials and monuments accurately depict the social significance of past events. Living in Philadelphia, the origin of the Declaration of Independence, I am highly aware of the long history of public demonstrations and powerful documents to our nation. Sometimes these acts afford broader rights, and other times they are restricting.

For the Glory/ Lafayette County, Mississippi

Till Death Do Us Part/ Of Brides and Gladiators/ Rome, Italy

Woman, Bound to the Past/ Battle of Antietam Sesquicentennial Reenactment

Watching and Waiting: 121 Days Before the Death of Nelson Mandela/ Mediclinic Heart Hospital/ Pretoria, South Africa

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe/ Berlin, Germany

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