Bio: Selena Salfen received her MFA in Photography, Video and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts and her BA from Columbia College Chicago. She lives in Brooklyn, New York but returns often to the rural Midwest to photograph. Her work can be viewed atwww.selenasalfen.com.
My grandfather has been a consistently frightening figure in my family. He returned severely damaged from the nine months as a starved and violently interrogated German prisoner of war in World War II. Functioning through the remnants of his untreated traumatic experiences, re raised a family in a physically and psychologically abusive household, governed by his alcoholism and nonsensical rules. He worked ad a mortician, stealing from those he embalmed and bringing a desensitized relationship with the death home to six children. This traumatic environment cultivated self-destruction and dysfunction amongst the children, leading to suicide, addiction, and many life-long struggles. The legacy of my grandfather’s experience in the war and the resultant abuse of his family has mutated and transmitted itself through three generations. For this project, I use the camera to disrupt the pattern of silence that had guarded our family’s dysfunction, while reconnecting the family and redefining their experience within my grandfather’s environment.
To make this body of work, I flew members of my family back from their scattered locations to the house in Missouri where my grandfather still lives. This process mimics the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, referred to as exposure in vivo, in which subjects are directed to return in the physical location of a trauma and confront their fears in order to heal. The photographs I make in these locations are reconstructions of stories from the past, as well as observations of each descendant’s reimmersion into the historically traumatic location. In addition, I excavate the space, searching for evidence of past and present dysfunction amongst my grandfather’s neglected animals, rotting food, and sixty hears of hoarding.