Tag Archives: Uncle

Access to archive material

On considering if I have access to archive material that I could perhaps use for a later project?  the answer is yes.  I have my wife’s Aunt’s old photos, plus photos that my wife’s Uncle and Aunt took of themselves and my wife’s immediate family.  Plus photos from my own family.  I am sure I could obtain access to photos kept at local museums such as Chertsey, Weybridge, Brooklands, Hampton Court, etc.

I had an idea that I once thought of as a good idea for a novel.  A few years ago Brooklands recovered a crashed Hawker Hurricane that was built at the Brooklands factory and first flown by the American Eagle squadron during the Battle-of-Britain, 1940.  It was later shipped via the highly dangerous Russian convoys to Russia under lend-lease and flown against the Germans on the Eastern-front before being shot-down and crash landing.  The Russian pilot survived and the plane was abandoned and forgotten until re-discovered and returned to Brooklands.  Perhaps a narrative can be created in a series of photos of the people that this aircraft touched from family pictures of aircraft riggers and fitters, aircrew, sailors, allies to the enemy.

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Exercise – ‘Question for Sellers’ by Nicky Bird.

http://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/

Nicky Bird purchased old unwanted photographs on Ebay, first waiting to see if anyone bid for them and if no-one did he purchased them himself and asked the seller, how they came to own the pictures and what they knew about them?

This is an interesting subject as I had never imagined that family photographs would ever become unwanted / redundant.  Their meaning lost, their memories forgotten.  That is until a recent event in my own life touched on this very subject.  My wife’s Aunt died without issue in 2011, her husband had died the year before and she left her whole estate to her four nieces.  When we were going through her things (which was a big task as she left a six bedroom house to be liquidated) I came across two old leather suitcases full of old family photos mainly of my wife’s Aunts family taken in the 30’s and 40’s.  No one was interested as Sarah’s Uncle was the family link and if I hadn’t have taken these cases myself they would have been lost for ever.  At the time I took them I had no thoughts of photography; but I felt a certain sense of responsibility that these lives should be remembered and these images should be kept.  I can’t explain why, I just thought it was the right thing to do.  Perhaps it is simply was that we all feel important and deep down wish to be remembered.  Photography gives us this chance, even if the name and the memory is lost the image can still tell future generations that we existed, what we looked like, how we dressed, and how we posed, even what the world around us looked like.  Photos are more important in this respect than say a painted portraits of a Victorian, for example. The photograph gives a better likeness, it captures the confidence or awkwardness of the subject; thus hinting at his or her character.  The camera captures background that can tell a little about that moment in time and perhaps history that the artist may leave out or re-interpret.  Sadly many family pictures will disappear over time and the surviving images will become more and more important.  Imagine if photography had been around at the time of the first Roman Republic, even if only all that survived was a few family photos of only ordinary citizens our historians would have a field day!

In this exercise I am asked if Bird’s second-hand pictures displayed on a gallery wall elevate their status?

I guess the answer has to be yes, for now they are now the focus of attention and anyone or anything that becomes the focus of attention must by default become elevated in status.

Where does their meaning derive from?

Their meaning derives only from the context of their use if they have lost their original identity.  An unwanted family photo of an unknown person, taken under unknown circumstances, perhaps even the location is unknown, then only the meaning that is attached to the picture from the exhibition exists.

When they are re-sold is their increased value because they are now art?

This is a commercial question and one that can not be simply answered with a yes or no.  If the exhibition is successful, if the pictures can attract a contemporary historians eye, if the pictures can capture the imagination of art collectors, there is a lot of ifs, if the seller can market these images correctly / cleverly to the right market.  Art is very subjective.

Research Point – A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing by Diane Arbus

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, N.Y.C. 1966 photographed by Diane Arbus.  This image brings back memories of my childhood, as my Uncle and Aunt looked similar to this when I was just a toddler.  My Uncle had that Teddy-boy look of the 60’s and my Aunt had her hair in this style which must have been very common at that time on both sides of the Atlantic (I believe that it was known as the Beehive).  The image clearly suggests an awkwardness in the attitude of the husband and wife, neither appear relaxed or very cheerful.  The wife appears distant and unhappy whilst the husband is trying to make more of an effort; but there appears to be a mix of friendliness and sadness in his eyes whilst his mouth suggests a faint smile.  Perhaps they have argued, perhaps the husband likes the photographer Diane Arbus and his wife is aware of it.  Perhaps his young wife feels trapped, her life over before it really began torn by her youth and her duty and love as a mother of two young children, one of which is disabled and likely to be quit a handful on top of that of the baby.  The baby appears fairly quite and happy whilst the boy may be sensing his parents mood as he gives the appearance of acting and looking confused and restless.  I note that the mother has clearly spent time on her appearance with her cloths, hair, make-up and eye-brows.  Is this for the benefit of the camera, herself or for the trip out?

This picture is the subject of an essay by Liz Jobey and was published in Singular Images, Essays on Remarkable Photographs.  Edited by Sophie Howarth and published by Tate Publishing.  (This book is currently out-of-print and I obtained a copy second-hand through Amazon.

According to Jobey’s essay this photo was taken on a Sunday in 1966 and the parents were taking their children out for the day.  Arbus had got to know this young N.Y. Brooklyn family and had visited then at their apartment and took some photos there as well as this one.  their names were Richard and Marylin Daurin, Richard was an immigrant from Italy working as a car mechanic he met his wife in high school and Marylin was still only 16 when they were married.  They had three children, the two in the picture is Richard Jnr. and Dawn.  Marylin was 23 when this photo was taken and she told Arbus that she was often mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor (which I suspect she encouraged by her choice of hair and make-up).  This image was first published in a special family issue of the British ‘Sunday Times’ titled ‘The American families’ with photos of the Daurin’s in the Bronx juxtaposed against the life-style of a wealthy Westchester couple.

When Arbus sent this photo to Peter Crookston the magazine’s deputy editor for the Sunday Times supplement she of Richard and Marylin, “They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way.”  However, Crookston re-wrote this for the caption as, “Richard Jnr. is mentally retarded and the family is close in a painful sort of way.”  Arbus later wrote a letter to Crookston complaining about his miss-quotation.

Arbus, by her own admission had a way with charming people in to posing for her and she became famous for seeking out people of the fringes of society and taking their portraits.  These people whom many would derogatory call freaks would be mentally ill down and outs, dwarfs, transsexuals, etc.  Sadly Arbus committed suicide in 1971.