The ‘found’ photograph, in particular the amateur or domestic image can feel so right. Perfect in its completed-ness. Allowing us a sneaky voyeuristic look into a past life that is unfamiliar yet totally recognisable. Made without the intention, knowing and education or practice of an artist. These ‘innocent’ images can be super-evocative. The intentions of a holiday snap shot are usually pretty straightforward, to record this thing here that I like, often people. In moments that we don’t just recognise but also play out in our own holidays, they reflect something about all of us. About being human.
Is the appeal of the found image becoming more exciting as they become scarcer?
This album, I picked up somewhere or other has a faux leather textured padded cover with gold edging. You know the type. It’s half full and is dominated by images of a single woman, taken, I am pretty sure, by the lone man in the other images. They each stand solitary in front of each other’s’ trained lenses. There is just one image, where they are sat side-by-side, comedically framed, squeezed into the corner of an empty landscape. I am guessing this is the out-of-balance compositional work of a passer-by.
She grins from ear-to-ear. Her smiles feel completely genuine, from my seat anyway. Although photography is certainly not a reflection of any kind of ‘truth’ more a tiny, abstracted, flattened, miniature, surreal almost spooky version of the truth. There are more images of her than of him. It’s a shame that the holiday-camera is often dominated by the man. A phenomenon explored in Eric Kessells’ first book from his series ‘In Almost Every Picture’ where he uncovers incredible collections of vernacular photographs.
He buys the film and packs the camera.
There is a (partly) accidental coherency in the series of images. In each shot of her, he is using the same lens, similar vantage point, he is at the same distance from his model, centrally composed, full length portrait with just the right amount of foreground and due to the square format a continuity of orientation, she looks straight into the lens. He appears to have formulated the thing most photographers are in search of - a style. ‘Photography is the easiest medium with which to be merely competent. Almost anybody can be competent. It’s the hardest medium in which to have some sort of personal vision and to have a signature style’ (Chuck Close). That, or simply a habit or a little formula that ‘works’.
He likes to take ‘good’ photographs.
It’s hard to tell, but I am pretty sure she re-applies her lipstick before each image is purposefully framed, posed, the lens focussed, aperture set, the smile is demanded and the shutter is pressed. Her hair is curled into a ‘set and blow-dry’ the kind of style my mother used to trot out in her shop ‘Jean’s Hair Fashions’. It’s a trip-to-the-hairdressers kind of job, then lacquered daily to stop any adjustment of the sculptural curls.
She takes care of herself.
Cameras are excellent at sucking up information, especially the peripheral things - and these are often the most interesting. Her white handbag faithfully by her side and her practical clothing, flat shoes and trousers, she has on a wedding ring, she wears a watch.
She is a practical woman.
With age, photographs often become more interesting they help us out by almost effortlessly preserving their own treasures like tiny museums. Disappointingly, the holidaying photographer will be often concentrate on scenes that don’t change - the picturesque landscape, the seascape, the church, the hills etc. Although riches can be found in the people it centres on through the small viewfinder. The full album (if found in tact) is often a fight or a shared-out quota of frames of film between landscape and the figure. Like a depiction of the sublime, people are used as a scale reference to wonder at the majesty of the land – the place you have holidayed to. Often amateur photographers squeeze their figures into the edge of the frame – like they are reluctant to give over some space in this already busy place. But in this instance, she is central, happy and present.
He loves her.
The prints are mostly faded to a warm peachy-pink-magenta colour and small in size, about 8x8 cm. They act like little stained-glass windows to a strange ‘nostalgia-land’. Beyond the visual language, I can’t help but gather up the clues. On the back of some of the images written in capital letters with a biro, are locations and dates. ‘AT THE CAFÉ AT CAPEL LE FERNE MAY 1980’. Only a few photographs have writing on the back, but they reveal that the half-empty album is made up of UK holidays, spanning from 1979 to 1983. Occasionally it’s the hotel – for example the ‘KESWICK HOTEL 1983’, quite posh actually – currently £138 a night on booking.com.
They value their trips and they like a bit of luxury.
1983…they’re quite an old-fashioned couple really. My mother was all perms, lycra and neon by that date. Where are the children? Remembering it’s a short time span here and a half empty album….was it an affair? A thing cut short? Something more sinister? For a collection of UK holidays the places are pretty far and wide and include Wales, Brighton, Folkestone, Yorkshire, Stratford upon Avon, The Strid, Ribble Valley, Lake District, Port Patrick, Leeds Castle, The Lakes, Keswick, and ‘Upper Slaughter’!
They get around.
Her photographic style is a little different. There are changes in distance, experiments with posing and a fantastic role reversal, where she dominates his slightly nervous pose on the floor clutching his knees. My favourite though, is the image of him where he appears to melt into the rocks. He is the rocks - the rocks are him. Everything in this image is the same colour. Partly through crappy development and printing and partly through age. CARDING HILL VALLEY EASTER 1980’.
He writes the captions.
They certainly appear to have had a good time together, but it is our trip now. We are the ones on the holiday –a holiday from reality. We sink into the various unfixed narratives that we tease out of these little abstracted worlds. A short break to a found holiday.