“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know” Diane Arbus
My favourite way of spending a Sunday afternoon, and avoiding homework, used to be to unzip my mum’s tartan suitcase filled with photos collected since her childhood. On the hallway shelves sat large, beautifully presented photo albums, containing what were to be considered the ‘good’ photos, where we looked happy or beautiful or well lit. The suitcase was the retirement home of all the photos that didn’t make it through those delicate gates made of tissue and black card.
The suitcase was my favourite hiding place. Slightly blurred images of mum and her sister sunbathing in the garden, an intrusive finger looming over the top left corner of a sunlit field, a relative’s closed eyes, spoiling a group photo. I would lie on my stomach for hours, sifting through the discarded moments, the unpresentable, unimportant moments, getting to know my mother as a teenager, peeking in on moments that existed in my absence. I would lay them out in rows on the carpet, searching for the clues to the lives of people I would never fully know.
I have carried this love of old photos through my life. Once, whilst running in the park, I discovered a photo of an elderly lady holding a cat. The photo had lodged itself between the park gate and the wet grass, was curled at the edges and had been scratched in places. I kept it as my book mark for years. It wasn’t a particularly lovely photo, the framing was off centre and the lighting was harsh, but it had captured a moment that I felt reluctant to dismiss as unimportant. Somebody had lost the photo and I felt it deserved a home.
Above are a mixed collection of old photos I found in a French brocante and others found in a dusty drawer in Vincent’s office. He presumes they must have belonged to his grandmother, although he cannot recognise any of the subjects in the photos. I like to think how carefully they would have been taken, the photographer aware of the cost of and the limited number of photos available in a reel. Photos of special occasions, clean, crisp dresses saved for best, a holiday with friends, a picnic in the churchyard. Photos of ghosts I am meeting now for the first time, meeting them in a moment they felt worthy of capturing in sunlight and shadow on paper.