All photographs are about death. Like a program running invisibly in the background of a computer, the presence of death is in every photograph and it drives the creation of all photographs. Photographs become our means of intruding into the flow of time. Our desire to capture and hold onto fleeting moments of life and the fleeting presence of those we share our lives with drives us to release the shutter. This is, in turn, a life-affirming act; the photograph, a life-affirming artifact. The critic John Berger has argued that photographs represent an “opposition to history” by affirming the subjective experiences of ordinary people, “so hundreds of millions of photographs, fragile images, are used to refer to that which historical time has no right to destroy.”
Photography is a powerful mechanism for constructing and/or reconstructing memory. In the Past tense series I use vintage vernacular photographs as a starting point for my digitally constructed images. I do not know the identities of most of the photographs’ subjects or the photographers who made them. I’m interested in the way these photographs can create narratives and memories that are differentiated from actual experience.
I’m particularly interested in the unselfconsciousness of the photographers who made these vernacular images that hold no pretense of artfulness. Using the opening and closing of a shutter the photographers summed up all of his/her impressions of the moment, of a life. The photographs are a beautiful and tragic response to a moment in time quickly passing from existence. In making these pictures the photographers were tapping into what is perhaps photography’s greatest “naturally occurring genius”; it’s ability to tell so much and yet to leave so much untold. The images reveal a rich history of amateurism that has produced a vision unique to this medium. I see these vernacular photographs as gifts from the past that pay homage to the life of their subjects, many now long forgotten, to the photographers who made them, and to the medium that has captivated our imaginations since its inception.
I have used these images as a starting point for my constructions, layering images from the past with those of the present. I layer many photographs together and then begin to strip away parts of those layers revealing some aspects of current photographs combined with some of the vintage ones. The process for me becomes a way to ritualize commemoration of the individuals in the
photographs and the photographers who responded to them while integrating them somehow into the present. I’m as interested in the photographer’s impulse to make the photograph as I am in the people pictured. For me, each person pictured in these photographs calls out, “remember me” as the photographer responds, “remember how I experience this moment and you.”
I draw my inspiration from these vintage vernacular photographs. For me, they allow an entrance into other lives, times and places. These re-imaginings echo parts of a story of lives gone by. My work pays homage to the people I feel I’ve come to know through their photographs and to the powerful impulse to immortalize them on the part of the photographers who captured them.