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Between the years 1941 and 1971, Barbara Allison Hitchcock (my great Aunt Allie) went on over a dozen trips spanning the world. From climbing the Great Wall of China to going on an African safari, she stepped outside the norm for women of that time period. Working as a secretary for GM, Allie was able to travel the world having never married or had children of her own. We can only speculate as to her desire or need to get out of the States; did she hate her job, were there secret issues she was working through or was abroad just more interesting and exciting to her? As a functioning alcoholic, it seems that she was unhappy with some part of her life and I see her travels as some sort of way to deflect or repair that part of her life.
At first glance this life seems full of adventures and fairly lavish, noting that Allie certainly had a fair amount of privilege. My mother remembers her as the jet setter of the family, sometimes only coming home for Christmas and bringing along a separate suitcase strictly for the weekend's booze. When she would come home she would set up the projector and do a presentation of her most recent adventure. We can see a sort of tradition or ritual in the whirring and clicking of the machine, as images appear on the screen. The care of which she has hand written on most the slides, dates and descriptions, as well as the assembling of her albums, we can see that this was her life. As she got older, Allie switched from taking her own photographs to buying postcards, this change in documentation did not hinder her travels. Throughout her life she filled over fifteen carousels of slides and around ten photo albums, among bringing home other souvenirs.
Looking at these mementoes with our current advancement of technology and social media; we can think about how society represents itself. Through the highly used 'selfie' to 'curating' how our Facebook and Instagram accounts are seen, people are constantly occupied with how they are being portrayed. We want our lives to look fun and exciting, most the time hiding the troubling parts, but we also want and demand to be happy. I see Allie's travels as a way for her to escape not only the nine to five, but also society's pressures on women to have a family, and maybe some of her need to drink as often as she did. We can get lost in the romantic, foreign to us images and imagine ourselves visiting these far away places, using them as a way to escape our own lives.
So we can ask ourselves, what do we leave behind? How do we want to portray ourselves to others? Having been twelve when Allie passed away, this is all I know of her. It's easy to glorify her life as glamourous and full of trips here and there; but who was she as a person? What did these memories and images mean to her and what do they mean to me? And in turn what do I, what do you, want to leave behind for future generations?
Aunt Allie goes to Africa exhibited at Craft House gallery for January of 2015.