The last couple of days I have been feeling nostalgic, along with a good dosage of melancholy. Thought I should be excited for having come into the possession of a large number of Black & White including sepia-toned photographs dating from about 1890’s through the late 60’s, including a number of negative, several receipts from a trip to Europe, a letter from a father to his son in camp and plenty of ephemeral material; I cannot help but feel sad.
There are school portraits commemorating graduation of ones fourth or fifth year from an elementary school in the late forties and early fifties, Boy Scouts of America merit badges, even a driving citation for speeding in a school zone with a comment by the police officer that the ticket holder is to bring his parents to court.
As I look at all the items, carefully separating them into different stacks, I cannot help but begin to wonder about these people who’s ‘bits and pieces’ I now hold in my hand, asking why all this and more was it being discarded? Even though my ‘treasure throve’ came from a number of different sources, the thought of so many previous lives having been tossed into oblivion, to be forgotten, erased as if they never existed in the first place, pains me, despite receiving a reprieve from the garbage dump.
Some of the photographs clearly date back to the depression era and even earlier, while others show men in uniforms serving as a police officer or the armed forces during World War Two, there are pictures of a child riding his first tricycle and looking back at mom or the few other ones of grandma holding her first grandchild, while beaming with joy.
So what happened to all these people? Was the previous owner the last survivor of the family line? What causes these individuals, the keepers of these last memories to be themselves the lost souls whose death brings to an end a rich and complex life?
Like most other artists, I too am a collector, but when it comes to letters and photographs it is not about collecting, rather I see myself as gathering the memories of previous lives, a ‘keeper of a fragmented unknown history’ if you will, whose own survival is uncertain with each passing year.
Over the last several years the number of photographs have grown to over one hundred and eighty or more, and among these I do have my favorites, in particular those of a families spanning a couple of years or decades, revealing a glimpse into their daily activities, their relations with one another.
In their silence each photograph weaves a story that beckons to be told and whether you come across an entire album or a single photograph, do not look at it as a possession to be had, but rather to cherish the honour of being a keeper of memories.