Lantern Review | The Hybridity Issue

Esther Lee

from Daughters of Celluloid

Artist's Statement

In this book-length project, tentatively titled Daughters of Celluloid, I investigate familial memory and the legacies of political trauma. By investigating the “unconscious optics” of family photographs, the novel provokes questions about the ways in which we are constituted in the space of family and how power is deployed or contested in them.

Namely, the narrator finds that her mother’s past suggests traumatic narratives from the Korean War. Memories are discontinuous, underscored by missing photos in family albums wherein large swaths of time and space have seemingly vanished. As a result, the narrator attempts to photograph her mother, grappling with how the camera can both fix and unfix them. As mother and daughter work to reframe the conventional plots that threaten to embalm them, they become unlikely co-conspirators, disrupting their unspoken ways of looking and complicating the myths of familial memory.

* * *

She fibs about the time the photograph was taken,
when she was thinking, It’s nice and warm here. She
slices the cucumber into tissue-thin coins. Fast-
faster-faster-fastest, until nothing is left. She places
them on her chin, cheeks, her eyelids. The aftermath
around her a faint sugariness.

Visibility, of course, would be poor.

Staring at her face blotted by circles, the eights turn
into nines.

Reflected back in the camera lens is the daughter
peering into it. Meanwhile she listens to the
mother’s rumors about villagers wearing the same
clothes, until the white cloth turned black, until
the dark snow whitened again.

The daughter watches her shave down the stool
legs—one at a time—with a hand saw but it
remains wobbly.

Her rumors continue: “Your grandfather ate so
little, resorting to grass. His skin turned onion

And there tomorrow is, insisting on a single
silhouette of yesterday. For right now she and the
daughter see one set of prints, as if they have
been retracing their steps, walking backwards in
the snow.

Into a metal bowl of water, the mother is peeling cloves
of garlic while watching the video of her father’s
funeral. Women are placing coins over his eyes, rice in
his mouth, his body facing the sun. She pauses on this
last frame. Rewinds a bit. Plays.

She revises her fairy tale. “There was one more sibling.
Your grandfather had a mistress, a Japanese woman.
They had a baby together. A girl. She died early though.”

(The eights turn into nines.)