Family secrets, our unwanted skeletons in the closet, can resurface and haunt us back in shocking intensity for years. They are these phantoms sitting on our shoulders and whispering spells into our ears. After experiencing such a phenomenon himself, Peter Pflügler decided to transform his family secrets and transgenerational trauma into a photobook, Now is Not the Right Time, that narrates such dynamics and tries to make sense of a complex and confronting event, such as the suicide attempt of his father. In the book, he reveals that when he was only two years old, his father went into the woods, intending to never come back.
Pflügler describes his youth as filled with unexplainable grief and dreams that he couldn’t comprehend. Due to his parents’ secrecy about the suicide attempt for twenty years, these feelings kept resurfacing. According to him, he felt strongly these invisible traces from the past that were so vague at the same time. Only after years of therapy, he was able to finally sit down with his parents and ask them about what exactly happened. The author started working on Now is Not the Right Time after ten years when this secret was revealed. He worked intensively with his family for four years in the place where he grew up. What formerly felt like an investigation turned into a healing journey for his family.
Our first encounter with the book is its cover — hardbound with grey cloth and large embossed letters. The grandiose outlook already indicates that it holds something of importance and value. On the other hand, the title Now is Not the Right Time and the grey color of in-betweenness indicate tension, as if one is about to open a Pandora’s box. The introductory pages contain family diary entries and after flipping further, one discovers that the book is bound in a way that pages are folded and that there is more information and imagery inside. It feels as if the viewers can choose to read the book in a standard way and get the official storyline or choose to go more in-depth and peek inside those concealed pages to look for cues and formulate an alternative narrative.
In The Generation of Postmemory (2012), Marianne Hirsh defines postmemory as a “relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective and cultural trauma of those who came before – to experiences they ‘remember’ only by means of the stories, images and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right… These events happened in the past, but their effects continue into the present.” Even though Hirsh relates postmemory to experiences manifested after one’s birth, it can be argued that since Pflügler was only two years old, he still couldn’t form concrete memories about the event and hence without full comprehension and experience of it, it still kept influencing his life later. He then stands in between post-generational and lived trauma, turning himself into a sponge when growing up, taking in all these impressions that only later came back as a boomerang. The use of the medium of photography, in this case, functions as evidence of past presence and visualization of postmemory containing a symbolic significance.
One discovers rather soon that Now is Not the Right Time is immensely layered and certainly needs multiple rounds of reading. There is this sense of contradiction in appearance since Pflügler’s photographs are noticeably vibrant in colors yet they communicate an inexactness, that something is lingering in the air. The ambiguity involved in trauma imagery is a crucial factor since it mirrors the author’s own feelings and the difficulty of comprehending and translating such emotions and experiences to oneself and others. In the end, what we make out of it, is purely our experience, an interpretation that doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to that of Pflügler. We can find our resonance or separate ourselves from it, and this is the freedom of viewership provided by the author, there is no sense of didactics on how to read the book; the storyline is rather loose.
Through his book, Pflügler takes us on an intimate and empathetic journey by means of clues and his clever use of ambiguous imagery. It is a poetic tale of concealment. There is a great sense of transformation in the book, considering the amount of vulnerability Pflügler has put into this piece and also the increasing comfort and transparency visible in the photographs of his family members. In the overflow of books produced, it is rare to come across an object that you feel has been composed with a lot of thought and care, without having the main purpose to just be out there. Instead, it is a form of release — an object of catharsis abundant with meaning and honest relatability.
is an Austrian visual storyteller based in the Netherlands. His work centres around the dynamics of secrets, intergenerational trauma and silence. With the help of photography, video and text, he aims to resurrect the unseen, the unknown and the hidden. In the end, he does not believe in secrets. Now is not the right time has been shown at numerous festivals and exhibitions throughout Europe, and the dummy of the book was nominated for several awards, including the Kassel Dummy award.