Friday, June 15, 2007

Memories: Lost and Found

Last year, I was in a thrift store in Philadelphia browsing through what must have been thousands of old family and vacation photographs. I sifted my way through each box, searching for the truly transcendent images. What I was searching for was unclear, but nevertheless I proceeded with dedication. There was a strange excitement that accompanied this activity, I guess I felt I was going to unearth some profound photographic relic. In actuality, the majority of the images were quite commonplace and seemed to serve merely as documentation that something had occurred, or as proof of some exotic getaway. However, there were a handful that truly fascinated me. They seemed to capture something that the others had not. I thought long and hard about what made these photographs more special, what allowed me to connect more deeply to them. Some photographs capture unique and exceptional moments when the emotional and aesthetic content coalesce. These images achieved that.

After some more reflection and many more viewings, the images I had purchased seemed to leave behind a residual sadness. They represented moments and memories in people's lives that had been discarded and left to collect dust in a box on the floor. Whatever context these photographs once lived in and represented to the people who possessed them, had undeniably changed into something else. I suppose the sadness they exuded stemmed from the consciousness that these memories, at least in photographic form, had been permanently separated from their owners. Had they died with no one to collect their belongings? Had they simply moved and forgotten to take them? Perhaps they voluntarily discarded them for reasons only they will know. Regardless, these photographs leave nothing concrete except many unanswerable questions.

The stories revolving around each of these photographs are undoubtedly different. As are, I imagine, the trajectories they took to end up in same location where I eventually purchased them. I suppose that goes without saying. However, what they all do share is a representational loss of memory. They can no longer serve as guides and indicators to familial history. They have been lost, but simultaneously, I have found them. It is in this dichotomy that I find the most meaning. I am left to create the my own stories and to build my own memories from these photographs that have left me so much, and so little.

-Ben Alper

Photographers Unknown