Thursday, August 15, 2013

The View from Here: On the Snapshot Part 1

It's the personal snapshot I'm going to dwell on. Not the intriguing, or ironic, or unexpectedly fascinating, no. Only the picture whose sole purpose is to remind and reawaken, provokes this inqiry.

The availability of inexpensive cameras and better film in the mid twentieth century, left many Americans with plentiful, usually colorful, paper totems of memory never intended for any other purpose than the personal document. Some artists explore the personal, casual and intimate photo as their theme, but I refer to the unintentionally ordinary.

 And to how they resonate and evoke beyond their appearance, beyond just the trap of the visual. Unbound by concerns of form and freed of trends, our snapshot albums let us do a little time travel, and the veneer of style peels away with laughter at our confidence and comfort among the hilariously outdated. It's one of the pleasures of time travel in the shoebox. As great art, they fail - all, but retain their unmistakable grip, molding our memories and charming us with the light and shadow of a vanished world.

These casual snapshots are the dual of my striving as an artist, and examining their meaning is like trying to see the back of my own head, so woven into my mind's fabric of self have they become. Its an inquiry of words. I wont need to mix color on a palette

Some imagery has an historical value, like the builiding torn down decades ago. As data, snapshots can document social realities, the vintage car entheuist can mine the visual data troves, as can a costume designer seeking accuracy and detail among the unsuspecting subjects of the long forgotten photographer, whose reborn fascimiles are reproduced in high definition, Blu -ray brilliance on the wide screen. Film is a meager, but wildly accurate thing, forensic in its insistent truth.

Sometimes its fun to see the private world of unknowns. Bidding online for a strangers home movies or slides is evidence theres a clear interest, its curious, and I'm not immune to this curiosity in the intimate memories and antique appearebnce of strangers, having purchased a box of someones vintage snapshots at a flea market years ago. I've always liked old photographs.

Sharing the dusty box with the 1940's assortment, I found a cellophane envelope containg a kitchy, but cute, 1900's era set of chubby young women, identical twins, posing as ballerinas. Artistic maybe, at the turn of the twentieth century, and suitable now for framing in some ironic, trendy emporium. I'd brought that batch beacuse the guy who was the subject mainly, was nice looking, really. It just seemed a shame for the vendor to throw it all in the trash.

My sister once told me she came upon discarded photo ablums and phamplets on how to deal with cancer, in the garbage cans on McDougal Street years ago, and my insides cringed at the grimness of, not only the end of some vibrant life, but also of the library of tenderness about to be forever lost, uncared for, unnoticed and decaying to dust under cycles of rain and cold in the landfill.

Some years back, my parents had a big cleaning out of their attic before moving. It was a good time then to organize the scattered boxes and albums up there, hunting these down using a flashlight, bumping my head on the rafters. My fingers found a few photos wedged between pink insulation and the unfinished floor beams.

I held certain thoughts about caring for these snapshots that my Mom didn't share. She blithley stashed away some boxes stuffed with those rectangular Polaroids from the 70's downstairs, in the entrence hall to the small apartment my parents used to rent out. "Who would take them?" she asked, like she asked whenever she didn't lock the front door "Who's going to break in?" "Krikrac O'Day - how do I know who?" I'd laugh, stifling disbelief. I finally brought them all back to a more secure place.

I set out awhile ago to scan snapshots - my parents, my sister's and friend's photos. If I had them, a negative was the preferred starting point. Those orange strips held surprises. Now and then I'd recover lost snapshots, never seen or forgotten - Images long lost or thrown out. I want to be surprised, and am.

 Sometimes surprises popped up seeing half a frame. The photo Lab's habit was to not print the small portion of the first frame, usually haphazardly clicked off when you loaded the film.The partial image was never printed, though it was usually  just random greenery, a forgotten chair, or hilarious decor. Fragments returned, delivered via technology.

Occasionally I'd find a lone strip of color negative, and before feeding it into the negative scanner, spend time peering hard at its abstract mysteries, probably no less visually confusing for those with good eyesight. The clues emerge. Green faces mask everyones identity, deep shadows are orange frost. And the frame is organized anew in the mind once again, as a hard rain can sound like applause by a shift in awareness.

Doing away with the paper print, prone to fading, Id see the familiar image once again, but fresh and uncreased, before me on my monitor's bright screen, closer just a little to the original moment. With digital enhancement, new areas and surroundings emerge from the gloom of time, never seen before. The underexposed or overexposed blank coaxed out with contrast treat me, reward my patience.

 Brightening the room that I saw then as utter darkness, was as though a bright search light had been switched on. Only through enhancement could the scene be at last seen. Much was hardly thrilling though- electrical wires, and coats thrown over chairs popped out of the gloom, through which the many people gathered there would stroll effortlessly. Yet, more thrilling was a particularly nice person whose face also popped out of the darkness, and had, unknowingly, chosen to sit near to me.

I am fairly obsessed with imagery, and not with more logical or expected things - like music...Chances are I will have lost the biological ability to see them soon. Their meaning reduced to a thin paperey volume cupped in my hand. Scant translation that. But I've found a lifeboat to hold onto - words.

There were several long shoeboxes and albums filled with snaphots that I remember growing up. I've collected boxes full myself too. I'm picking a handful out. It's here that I'll explore, their shapes, colors and arrangements are still, barely, visible. Immensly loved people's shapes will spark memory. My eyes stuggle through a miasma, peer beyond the circular fireworks of violet explosions shimmering and hiding, with awful success, the snapshot's story from underdtanding. As usual, I pry it all away, as best I can, and look, trimphent and tired, with tenderness at these treasures. Time to set out a grid and excavate.

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