It is a collaboration over fifty years in the making with a man who died when I was barely sixteen. He left his notes along with a Bell & Howell projector, screen and sixteen reels of film (spanning twenty years, two decades of life and death, the tail end of the baby boomers and the beginning of a new generation) tucked behind his work bench on the basement floor. There they sat waiting to be discovered by a family unsure of what to do with the antiquated technology. Eventually, under cobwebs, the boxes were unearthed by my widowed grandmother and I was alerted because of my love of all good things well past their prime. These surviving relics moved from that basement to the trunk of my car where they lived for a year before entering the back of a U-haul trailer to be driven thirty hours across the country.
For the first month of my first year of graduate school, my grandfather’s projector, screen and reels sat untouched in the corner of my then sparse studio. It was sometime during September, filled with confusion and a lack of ideas (or maybe too many ideas), that I plugged it in and turned on the lamp. Miraculously this machine, which had laid dormant for decades, worked. Suddenly I was connected to my deceased grandfather, not as his granddaughter, but as his collaborator – his equal. A voyeuristic exercise, I was transported fifty years back through the eyes of my mother’s father. From 1967-1987, he documented his family, a wife and four daughters, during the beginning of the American feminist movement, through his lens as a husband, a father and a man. I am watching my mother tumble across the frame (seeing so much of myself), my Aunt Lesa take her first steps, stories I have only ever heard are now acted out before my eyes on screen. Soon my father will enter the picture, though I have not yet made it to the year in which he and my mother meet. It is fascinating to view this cast of characters as they existed before me, my mother long before she held such a title. I am seeing humans who no longer walk this earth come to life once more alongside me in my studio. Many of these characters people I had never gotten the chance to actually meet.
I stop at moments of interest, freezing the Super 8 film then meticulously moving through the scene frame by frame until I uncover each moments most compelling composition. The act of photographing these stills bring the past into the present only to be refrozen, boxing them back up and keeping them as a newly discovered documentation of the past (my past).
In many ways I view my grandfather as a street photographer, capturing moments in bursts. If he is playing the role of Garry Winogrand, I am playing the role of John Szarkowski, moving frame by frame through a seemingly infinite archive of images, curating the photographs that I feel need to find their way back into the world. These moments existed, but not really, not frozen the way in which they are now being presented. I am curating a new narrative out of an already curated past, presenting it to my viewer in a way I hope to eventually make interactive.
“In the past decade a new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends. Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it.” – John Szarkowski
How similar are our childhood experiences as a collective culture? Do we share the same celebrations and experience the same traumas? These are my people, but they are yours as well. These characters function as stand-ins for others, your sister, mother or grandmother. It is my hope that in someway my timeline is able to meld into yours.
Here is the beginning of my curatorial efforts: