About 15 years ago I discovered a stash of old photographs that had been discarded. They range from he 1920’s to maybe 1950’s and most of them told the story of 2 sisters who had left this island to marry in America, the photos were sent to an aunt who had remained on the island. They obviously came from a somewhat wealthy family as there is a group shot taken outside rather than in a studio and they are very well dressed.
Most of the images are studio portraits that people would give as a memento or keep as a record of their existence as the photographic phenomena was well developed by then. Not many people had their own cameras, although there are enough shots to suggest that someone did. Obviously once the 2 sisters got to America there are a lot more photographs as the Kodak revolution was well under way there.
At the time I was still working creating art and I scanned some of these images to use for collage, and I created quite a few pieces large and small that are hanging in peoples houses or maybe by now stacked in their garages or trashed - who knows. But all the time I was making them there was a distancing occurring; the more I looked at these photos and imagined the narratives in-between the shots the more fake my collages seemed to feel to me.
The photograph in itself was way more powerful than anything I could create with it. Though I grant there are artists using old photographs who push boundaries with it - I was just adding layers of sentiment to what was itself a pure thing.
I’ve always collected old photos at flea markets in abandoned houses - I feel a kind of compulsion to protect them- despite it being some strangers narrative with the moment. The same fascination (though I’m sure this is far more common) I have with my family’s old images or images of myself beyond my memory’s scope; in some I can remember the moment, in others the moment has also been recounted to me so it becomes like an artificial memory reinforced by the image. I look at images of my mother, young and beautiful in her early 20’s and think who was this person? Before my knowing of her. But I can have the same feeling for a perfect stranger and wonder; what happened before this moment, what was the next moment like for them who moved first and how did the dynamic change?One image particularly invokes this for me and its one I’m drawn back to
In the personal vein, ie my childhood or family photos if I had to choose a single image it would be this one:
Interestingly there is nothing to remember, my mother and I are asleep, its obviously summer and hot, and the solitary conscious entity is my father who has taken the shot. And yet for me it encompasses everything - the whole essence of being. I didn’t even know I had a teddy bear as a toddler and yet there he is in the bed with us.
The images I like the most are the ones that invoke in the simplest way a story, rather than a portrait or a memento- something that wraps time into the image in a more subtle way.
Summer immortalised, all our summers, the beauty and simplicity of the sea, but especially the sea in Greece - its this kind of shot that swallows me up in love for this country.
This has so much narrative for me, everything from the buildings to the person turned away from the camera looking at something or for something.
A movie still which doesn’t require a movie.
I think its a cobbler and his son, but the light and shadow, the cigarette in his mouth, the fleeting nature all portray a narrative.
Another favourite of mine by my father.
This solitary small man in his boater hat standing in the vast emptiness of the Olympic stadium built in the heart of Athens for the first modern Olympic Games.
Another for the family album that has long fascinated me, the mystery and how it even survived the ruthless discarding of images that were not portraits
There are many more but being selective this is my first choice in order to somehow describe how the colour of expired polaroid 669 works for me in a similar vein. There are many excellent photographers out there shooting with this film - I don’t consider myself one of them - but I was fortunate enough to get hold of a couple of packs early last year - what with one thing and another I only got round to shooting the first pack 10 days ago. Well it was simply magical, somehow the colour that it rendered reminded me of these old images i’ve shared here but speaking through the colour. Im not sure if i’m at cross purposes here, but after i’d taken the first shot and seen the result, the atmosphere of the colour composed the next shots - they all remind me of something suspended in time but not through composition as much as colour.Its a shame that this film will eventually disappear - its a shame I only have the one remaining pack, though that limitation is perhaps fortunate for me. My favourite creator of nostalgia is Tarkovsky, in his film and in his polaroids. But that is a power in images that has always existed, though I think perhaps is being drowned by sheer numbers now. Barthes, Sontag deal with this far better than me.