Photos of Photos
This may not make sense to most of you who are born and raised in the digital age, but I am a crossover child. Sometimes I feel I was born at exactly the wrong time: too late to be a luddite, and too early to be a fully techno-savvy computer, internet and camera user (though I'm doing pretty well). I have to work hard to keep up with technology before it steamrolls me. I borrow my sons Flip, but I have stacks of stored Super 8 film around here too. I have converted an entire closet into storage for my negatives, and that is not yet enough space, but I have been shooting only digital images since 2005. For four years before that, I was shooting film and scanning it to CD's. Now the files are so huge that I buy entire hard drives just for one job.
I have been working for the past several months on a huge reorganization of my office and files. In the process, I have discovered all kinds of prints and negatives that I had forgotten. A print stored in a box is no better than a digital file stored on a hard drive, and so I am on a mission to share.
One thing I have done for much of my life is to take pictures of pictures. I know it seems silly. Once you have the photo, why do you need another one of it? But there is more to it than that. I don't always have the original photo. They aren't always mine in the first place.
These photos can only coexist on my shelf. My mom and dad don't speak (these are photos of them circa 1958), my grandmother has passed away (I have one of her young, and one with my dad at a cousins wedding that I shot, and my first day of first grade with my sister and my favorite cat is a treasure to me. All these different times, brought together in the present, and now preserved as a group into the future...with some money and my own carved treasure from India.
I find that our photo collections change over the years. We add a wedding or a child. We subtract a husband or honor a father who has passed on. I love to photograph whatever is taped to the refrigerator, or sitting on the piano or the mantel, or the bedside table on the day a woman gets married. It marks a moment in time, usually when her mother's wedding portrait was the only bride on display. It might be the last day she will spend in that room surrounded by photos of her most beloved friends and family.
I have also noticed something important as I see the losses suffered by people whose homes were destroyed by disaster or computers just suddenly died. The internet is a great place to store your personal photos. My boyfriend lost most of the photos that were important to him, not once, but twice. They weren't backed up, and a simple computer fix turned into a hard drive erasure that was emotionally devastating for him. Decades gone in a blink. I worry about fire and water damage. I worry about theft and technological failure. I have triple backups of all my digital files. But of most of my negatives, I have the negative, and a print...maybe....in an envelope in a box. If I lose one, I likely lose the other.
Today I pulled a batch of photos from my voluminous piles of prints and found a few worth scanning and emailing to myself. I will sleep better at night knowing that somewhere, out there, my photos exist in a safe place, even if I have no idea where that place is.
I am inclined to start a website for my son (I had the foresight to buy him a domain name several years ago) as a sort of virtual scrapbook that I can add to over the years so that he will always know where his baby picture are. I might save the most incriminating ones for his wedding, of course.
I will always take photos of my photo displays, because it reminds me of where I lived and what was important for me to show to and about myself at the time. Last weekend I was shooting a wedding with a friend in Cumberland Island, and I loved the photo displays in the houses there. These displays included paintings, photographs and all kinds of memorabilia going all the way back to their Carnegie ancestors. There were bones and found objects among the faded color and black and white images. I took photos of Gogo explaining some of those family photos to me. How amazing to see those same locations occupied by a different generation. Apparently, Bruce Weber had recently been there to photograph her. I knew he must have loved the same displays. The layers are incredible. I have a photograph of the bride getting her makeup done, while sitting under the wedding portrait of her father's mother. Those kinds of layers are so priceless to me. Few people think to take those pictures, because they see them every day. That is why I shoot them....it reminds you of what you saw every day...because one day it will be gone. I am an archivist at heart.
None of these individual photos are mine, only the overall views. I took these while shooting a wedding at Hammersmith Farm, in 1994, for a descendant of the original owner of the property and the photos were in the house. Jackie Kennedy was married in this house, which belonged to her stepfather. Most people think of it as a Kennedy home, though I think of it as an Auchincloss home. Most of the people in the photos are gone. I think that makes the faded, torn photos that remain all the more precious.