Our photographic records have changed radically over the last century: from the tiny black-and-whites that our great grandparents took; to the larger format black-and-white of our grandparents; through to the color print “happy snaps” of our parents; then the first digital camera pictures taken by our own generation; and, currently, the even higher-res digital files on the smart computer/cameras on which our children record every meal, every smile, every sunset, and share with their friends instantaneously.
What has also changed, though, is the way that we can trace the lineage of these images. Every digital image now comes attached with a ‘clock’ that records the exact time and date of that image’s capture. We live in a world of records and data: the history of our movements can be traced via our phone’s GPS; our Facebook postings contain their own time-line; our iPhotos are compiled with meta-data that most of us will never use. We always will know where we are, and where we were, in every point of time and space.
So what happens if, like professional photographer Jeff Phillips, you find 30 old boxes of pictures taken by a couple long dead, at an antique fair? 1,100 slides that make up the life record of a childless couple who pursued their collective energies to travel the world; a fascinating record, but devoid of any information other than a penciled record on some slides of a ‘Harry’ and an ‘Edna.’ The images were lost in time, not date-stamped other than by the environs and clothes of disappeared eras.
Phillips used modern media, and set up a Facebook page, Is This Your Mother, on which he would point out clues contained within this array of images. People responded with not only hundreds of likes, but, amazingly, an answer to the mystery within three short weeks.
Welcome to Harry and Edna Grossmann’s story; which ended in 1986 and 1983, respectively. And welcome to the backstory of all those images of sunsets and horizon lines, of cruises and deckchairs, of exotic squares and tall minarets, of mugging for the camera and being caught lost in one’s own thoughts; welcome to the world that we all still share in our own photographs. In the Grossmann’s records, we see our own travels writ large.
Not content with even these treasures, Phillips investigated further, searched for the Grossmann’s survivors, and found their Great Niece Carol Felzien, who was both grateful and shocked at what the Facebook page had managed to achieve.
The legacy of Harry and Edna is now scanned and archived, and finds its expression on its own website.
Simon Herbert is a freelance writer and editor, and has written for magazines including: Creative Camera, High Performance, Border Crossings, Art Monthly and Artists Newsletter; and catalogues for the Sydney Biennale and Henry Moore Sculpture Trust. As an art curator, he co-founded Locus+, which commissions a variety of digital-based artist’s projects.
He has also been known to poke around in old film boxes and canisters: http://retinette.wordpress.com/