My personal history of photography starts with the family album.
A Lichtwark quote from 1907 via Walter Benjamin: “There is no work of art in our age so attentively viewed as the portrait photograph of oneself, one’s closest friends and relatives, one’s beloved,”
She is not a beloved. She is a relation I have never known, but she is a link to the past, my roots. There is something very haunting about photos like this one. I love the stories they imply.
My grandfather was born in Poland, then Austria-Hungary (also known as the Dual Monarchy), he was the first born boy in a Jewish family. He had nine siblings. The scary looking lady was his father’s mother.
Perhaps I find these family photos haunting because so many of these people died so long ago (many of them in concentration camps) – but somehow they remain present in the images, captured and immortalized, staring from the past into the present.
At the moment I’m part of a touring show “Responses to Conflict and Loss” curated by Garry Hunter. I chose to do a project based on my grandmother. But in many ways it’s more about images and identity.
My grandmother ended a long life on my 30th birthday. She was born on the day The First World War broke out, so you see, she had a thing for making herself remembered.
Remembering was more problematic. By the end of her life, my grandmother was having great difficulties remembering where she was and who the people around her were. So she took to tearing up photographs. My mother found a whole bunch of torn up photos in the nursing home bin. I think my grandmother must have felt angry for not knowing who all these people were – for not being sure who she was herself.
I got my first camera when I was 9. It was a Kodak Instamatic 77x, a low-end camera in the Instamatic range made by Kodak between January 1977 and 1984. It has an f11/43 mm fixed-focus lens and a single shutter speed of 1/50 second.
Naturally my favorite subjects were friends and family. The photo above is from 1985. I think picking up that camera was my way of coming into existence. Or at least of becoming part of the story.
My son Arthur posing with my old Instamatic. I’m still a big fan of window light.