These scanned copies of photographs have come from my personal collection. I would appreciate any thoughts – in the comments section below – that these images invoke either individually or in any collective way. Your help is much appreciated.
“Make a selection of up to five photographs from your personal or family collections. They can be as recent or as old as you wish. The only requirement is that they depict events that are relevant yo you on a personal level and couldn’t belong to anyone else (i.e. no pictures of the Eiffel Tower)….”
The exercise as written in the course notes, and ok, I chose six photographs.
I surrounded myself with a great many photo albums, random photographs that have been collected and stored in various places around the house and some family photographs that I have collected recently from my mother. The process of deciding – editing – which of these thousand or so photographs would appear was more difficult that I thought it would be. As soon as I started thinking about this photograph or another I realised I was editing. This editing was underscored quite often with different contextual narratives, some of which will become evident in the ‘histories’ that I will attach to each photograph. And because of those narratives I found myself advancing and retreating on this exercise of selecting images for presentation.
Of course the course is about documents, this exercise is from the first section ‘Introducing Documentary’ and follows on from a piece on ‘what makes a document’ on the WeAreOca site which can be found here, and comes directly after a discourse on discontinuity wherein lies this statement: “All photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have been taken out of a continuity. If the event is a public event, then continuity is history; if it is personal, the continuity, which has been broken, is a life story. Even a pure landscape breaks a continuity: that of light and the weather. Discontinuity always produces ambiguity.” (Berger & Mohr, 1995 p.91). I will also respond to the comments individually.
These images are all personal, some more personal than others; so, referencing the statement above, it is a life story. I could have had many different life stories from the collection of photographs that lay strewn about me. My life through my boys would be one, mostly the pictures I looked at were taken by me of my wife and our boys, so when the camera was turned on me it was usually with one or both of them, from babes in arms to adulthood, playing cricket or football, watching them act on stage or receive awards, dressed up at weddings and other formal events and through the passage of time as they became men and started on their leg on the generation relay. That these six photographs do not contain them was a difficult decision, but their lives are now their own, still very personal to me, to us, to our family. There are no work photographs, I have retired now and had always thought that people shouldn’t be defined by what they did as an occupation. “What am I?” “I am a man married to my wife for thirty six years with two sons who are both now married with their own children”. Other aspects are no more than flavourings.
These six photographs then, I realise, will tell a narrative about me and each photograph will have a description as to why they appeared in this set. A few comments have noted that the photographs have been scanned to reveal not only the image as a whole i.e. un-cropped, but purposefully as an object, almost three dimensional and with any blemishes, creases providing a clue to the materiality of the object, evidence of them being used as objects, being handed around from one person to another, one generation to another. Similarly there have been some references to death, photographs as memento mori? Well, only in as much as the narrative will describe a passing, but only of time. The couple in Photo 1 have passed on, but all other characters are still very much alive and kicking.
The edit of course revealed an auto biography as so many of the commentators remarked, they are either me or contain me (Photo 1), through a period in my life that found happiness and a sense of purpose only at the end of it (this period here). I did not expect that so many of the commentators would develop narratives, though because of the discontinuity of the images, with only speculation as a device to thread the viewers context into the images, I think I would have wanted to bring my personal experiences to bare and generate a narrative. Though I don’t think I should be surprised, given the statement from Berger & Mohr above.
My paternal grandparents, his name was Hector Oswald, I can’t remember her name. I received this photograph from my mother relatively recently. As a family they didn’t have much to do with us, thinking my mother not quite good enough for my father. This was taken outside their house, I don’t know when; she had a penchant for rabbit fur coats and as they appear to be going out (perhaps in) I am speculating that it might have been to an engagement. My grandfather, as a pianist, used to accompany my grandmother as she sang in local venues in the Bedford area. They went out most nights leaving the nine children they had bred and this is why I think my father despised alcohol and pubs/clubs etc for most of his adult life. That I didn’t include a picture of my parents is of course part of the narrative, but this picture contains half my DNA, and the half that isn’t my favoured one.
My first school photograph. It is interesting that, out of it’s cardboard holder that is detailed with Christmas Holly, the photograph is roughly cut, probably by the photographer’s assistant and that brings a sense of poignancy to the image to me. Someone said angelic, I see a lot of pain. My mother said I had a ‘lazy eye’ which I can see now, but the photograph is the earliest known picture of me and was used by my closest friends when they presented me a ‘This Is Your Life’ spoof almost two decades ago. I suppose I was told to look at the camera, so ‘face-on’ is how it is. I don’t really recognise myself in this photograph.
Yes, my first appearance on stage. I would have been around 8 years old, and it is something I remember to this day and I recognise me in the shot. That I was ‘blacked-up’ seems quite pertinent, I was portraying someone else, I knew my parents wouldn’t be in the audience and so I could ‘let-go’. I don’t know why I looked toward the camera, a photographer who I think was seconded for the Christmas show from the staff. I did a show number here and then mimed to “Little Drummer Boy” by Harry Simeone – I was told later that the miming looked ridiculous as my frame didn’t match the timbre of Simeone’s singing.
Second form school rugby team, I am sitting on the floor to the left of the picture. School scarves, school blazer, over the top of our rugby kit. Red brick grammar school, after I passed my eleven plus. To a great extent I was a fish out of water. My parents I think would have been happier for me to go to the local Secondary Modern, which is where most of the children went to including my twin sister and my other sisters and brother. I was the only one in my family to pass the exam. Rugby allowed me to excel in something that seemed natural to me, like all games I could compete on an equal footing; I also played cricket, basketball, athletics, cross country running and hockey for the school, until I got a Saturday job at the local Co-op, when I could no longer turn out for the school on the weekend. Some of these rugby payers became my close friends during my school time, but I left them when I left school. Most in this picture went on to become lawyers and accountants, some into the music business and I think one MP.
My first date. Elaine Dear had agreed to meet me one Saturday afternoon. My mother had made this roll-neck pullover of crimson red, gold and black just a few days before I was due to meet Elaine. I cannot remember why but I was asked to stand outside the front door to number twenty, our house, and have my picture taken by my father. They knew I was excited by this date and maybe they decided to mark the occasion. I can imagine my father laughing at the prospect of this ‘coming of age’ thing, wondering why anyone would want to meet me for a wander around Bedford town centre. The thing is, he was right. Apparently Elaine saw me before I saw her and deciding that my appearance resembled a bee she ducked away and I didn’t see her until Monday when she avoided me and wouldn’t talk to me. For a short time I had the nickname ‘bumble’ and I couldn’t work out from where it came from, until a friend told me that Elaine had told her best friend about me. I can’t understand why he took this picture, why Elaine never turned up.
My father also took this photograph. On the reverse side it says ‘US. July 1975 AT John’s’. The photographer in almost the same position as image 5 but turned through ninety degrees here I am with Alison, we had been ‘going out’ for about a year and within a year we were married and in a home of our own. The references in the comments about colour seem to sum up how my life had turned ‘brighter’ here I was in love, with someone who wanted to be with me, valued me above most things and who wanted to share her life with me. Again, why my father wanted to take this picture I have no idea; I can only presume that he had spare frames to get rid of. I would never have asked him to take a picture of me, maybe Alison did.