My project looks at ‘forgotten lives’, through my use of old, anonymous photographs which I have found on eBay. Sold in large batches, there is no indication of whom these belonged to or where they originated. Someone, somewhere, put a camera to their eye, and pressed a shutter in order to preserve a moment, but these moments are now dispersed, sent to me from around the globe.
I am interested in the impossibility of knowing whom these photographs belonged to. Where are their subjects now? Their photographers? Indeed, where were they then? This diasporic nature of the photographs I have been collecting is at once infuriating, intriguing and inspiring.
Infuriating because I want to know.
Intriguing because I try to know.
Inspiring because they force me to know, through my redirected gaze as I work with the images to create new meaning.
This process I am engaged with is pulling me to and fro. I am looking at memories and traces, which pull us backwards and forwards, informing our future but never letting us forget our past. I am interested in collective memory, in particular what can be drawn from what could be seen as someone else’s memory, preserved in a family snapshot. I have questions about perception and reality, representation and interpretation.
The gaze is directed, diverted, reflected. Words form to try to make sense, and a narrative is drawn, entirely fictitious, entirely unique. Edward Steichen said that “[t]he people in the audience looked at the pictures, and the people in the pictures looked back at them. They recognized each other. A Japanese poet has said that, when you look into a mirror, you do not see your reflection, your reflection sees you” (in Hirsch 1997:41).
As I pair two, three, perhaps four images, I blend a multitude of worlds and memories. I pull together people, nature, the domestic, from somewhere in the world, and I play. My fascination at the moment is what satisfies me. How is it that I know when a montage is complete? Why is it that some files are finished, image layers flattened, when others remain open and ready for further manipulation? These photographs speak to me, causing me to select them from the pile on the desk. The new image speaks to me further, telling me stories (about myself?) as I combine them. Time ebbs and flows, from then to now and back again.
Each time I pick up a photograph I feel privileged, and a little bit guilty. But, no matter. We cannot hope to freeze time forever, eliding interpretation and mediation. We cannot hope for static stories. A rekindled story, an ignited memory – false or real – is perhaps the only hope that we have.