Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Photography, imagination and reality

Apr 20, 2020 - Elena Helfrecht

Like most of my work, the basic idea and initial impulse for ‘Plexus’ emerged years before I started working and researching for it. I envisioned the project concretely for the first time in 2017, right before the start of my MA in London, but the seeds were planted even earlier. It was the next logical step and a result of my own concern with inherited trauma and postmemory, stemming from experiences, memories, and conversations.


My mother is an important contributor to this body of work, and I am grateful for her participation and support, from helping with research to assisting me in the making of the images. We started to talk more about how both of us were influenced by my grandmother, who passed away a few years prior, and previous generations’ experiences, and how many gaps were in the stories we thought we knew everything about. Together, we started to dig deeper into archives of documents and photographs found in the house and into my grandfather’s recollection of the events.


In my work, I weave my autobiographical experience into a network of imagination, dreams, and memory. This process allows me to expand the narrative I’m looking at with extended perspective and context, which outgrows what simple documentation of my personal experience could do alone.


For ‘Plexus’ I shoot in and around my grandparents’ house in Bavaria, which has been owned by my family for roughly 200 years, and which I hope to renovate and move into in the future. Several generations have lived there, each adding their stories to what appears to have become a growing organism of memories and objects. Some of the documents and artefacts I find in the house surround me since childhood and make me connect with their innate and fragmentary history, juxtaposed with the new context of my present, to form a narrative around the way history and trauma is recorded and passed down, and in return how I am influenced by it. With this series, in a way, I re-enact the passing on of knowledge and experience by staging the images. What has once been an object of everyday life or stories of a long-gone time, slowly turns into a myth, altered every time it gets retold, turning into a new memory and opening the theatre of the mind to a stage ready for new thoughts and associations to create an entirely new play.