The silence of lost photographs wanting to speak

I have always felt a sense of sadness when I saw family photographs stacked in boxes or little baskets under glass counters and offered for sale to anyone willing to pay the price. It is as if the life of a person’s memory was being offered for sale, a memory as obscure as any fragment of parchment in unknown tongues on display in a museum. But there is something different about a photograph, a photograph of a person looking back at you, trying to speak but there is only silence.

It has been almost two decades since I started casually collecting old photographs, particularly those from 1920s thru the 1950s. Rescuing images, the lives of unknown persons from a fate of possibly vanishing forever from humanities consciousness.

Yet the majority of these photographs offer no clues as to the names of those depicted, their location or even the reason why someone chose to take the time to unfold the camera, moving the bellows into position and releasing the trigger to capture the scene on film.

We are left to speculate, to imagine. To use our life experience and creatively  apply our knowledge into deciphering the smallest of clues. Interpreting the subtleties of nuances displayed by the subject or that between subjects themselves and the camera.

Much is garnered from a pose the subject holds about themselves. Are they proud, secure, self-confident in who they are or timid and shy. Do they appear restless, as if not wanting to have their picture taken, but for some reason or another they relented due to some kind of necessity, maybe a family obligation.

We look at the apparel and ask, are these your Sunday cloths or everyday work attire. What do they reveal about you and your position in the community. What about any jewelry you might have upon your person or other accessories. Even scrutinising the background for a hint of a geographical location or the name above a store, anything that would allow us to write the first page of a story, the one we image that is occurring on the silver gelatin print.

We can only go so far with the information we derived from a photo or a set of accompanying images from the same roll of film. In the end, it is only our imagination that breathes any momentary life back into these pictures, lending a foreign voice that still must remain silent.

There is no magic spell I can discharge to compel their silence in revealing what lays buried within the fibers of the paper of the photograph and so I will go on collecting the souls of the departed, continuing to treasure their very existence of the lives they once lived.

So when I came upon the work of Nettie Edwards and her inquisitive questioning the lives of a family on vacation in The Austrian Shoebox, I was smitten with a rush of excitement. For very rarely, one is fortunate to acquire an entire photo album or two, gaining access to much more speculative information, all of which fills our thoughts with seemingly endless possibilities.

Nettie brings the unknown photographs back to some form of life by photographing the photographs and applying different post production effects. She is very careful in the selection of the special effect to be applied, making sure that in doing so has means and a purpose in the over all sequence of the story she is creating with the selection of these photographs dating back to to the mid-1940’s.

Nettie Edwards story of The Austrian Shoebox will appear here at The iPhone Arts this coming Saturday, so please mark your calendar and check back.

All photographs taken with an iPhone 4S by
©2014 Egmont van Dyck - All Rights Reserved

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