Snapshots from an Unfamiliar Album

‘Like haiku; [the snapshot] will ask us to complete it.’
–Douglas Nickel


Consider these photographs. They were all collected from various locations, various countries. All were purchased—none were inherited. None of them interrelate beyond the fact that they are products of similar technology; societies of ‘consumption and disposal’ (West 81-2), and perhaps the result of the same purpose: to capture a context and meaning, too soon lost.


Consider how many words each image is worth. It would be quite a game of ekphrasis to invent stories to pin to the background of these scenarios, these times, these people, who are no longer of this life but of an afterlife; there relegated the instant their impression settled on film.


Consider this afterlife. This one, now, as the photographs appear on the screen before you; the processes that these snapshots have come through to reach a stage of digital display, of internment.


Context; capture—sometimes highly orchestrated—meaning; loss.


‘Once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of posing. I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.’
–Roland Barthes


Consider the layers, indiscernible when looking across, that create a depth when looking down.  Rediscovery; recollection; reformatting into an album, into an unfamiliar sequence, set in or sharing a page according to a new context, a different aesthetic. Then re-photographed, re-calibrated into pixels, then uploaded. Then, downloaded. Then again in view, but under the gaze of a gallery of strangers, a global unknown, a new reflection of the people in the snapshots (who is peering at whom?), able to be accessed and copied.


It is obscene, this kind of invasion of nostalgia. It is a contemporary trend to re-purpose objects—but do people require re-writing? Is this transference to digital form enough of an encoding for an unwilled, unwilling exhibition?


And yet. Consider not only what is lost in this process but also what might be gained: what new life is this afterlife. Possibly it’s one of nourishment, where we can look from the uppermost layer down and declare that we are learning, or re-learning. Where we attend to the past via this digital resurrection. Where the faces will be reconfigured and their stories, those real and invented, will fill us with wonder. Where they might even, again, be seen.


‘If snapshots are no longer innocent or private pictures, maybe we need to question whether, in fact, they ever were.’
–Marvin Heiferman



West, Nancy Martha. 2008. ‘Telling Time: Found Photographs and the Stories They Inspire’ in Now Is Then: Snapshots from the Maresca Collection, ed. Marvin Heiferman. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. 78-120.