I am reading ‘Possession’ by A.S. Byatt and have enjoyed it immensely. The correspondence between the poets Ms LaMotte and Mr Ash was especially thought-provoking. So invigorated I was after reading it that I began to experiment with writing in a style of a letter about a few glass photographs, a subject which has been on my mind for some time. Letters allow for a more familiar and relaxed tone as opposed to the self-importance that can be the pitfall of blogs and essays.
Being a female, I am not allowed the confidence that men are allowed, without disapproval. This as well as other established and unspoken rules of society, not to mention my personal history, has made me a hesitant writer at best. Therefore, if I wish to attempt to write about these glass photographs as freely and honestly as I am inspired to, I would have to make a consider carefully to whom I should imagine to be writing. It would have to be someone with whom I would be at ease and someone invested in trying to understand the whims of my thought.
And that someone is, obviously, my sister.
“...I found these glass photographs a few years ago in the Greenwich Junk Shop. They had a drawer full of them for a few pounds each. I would like to say something about them but I struggle to decide what. That is an odd thing to say. Surely I know my mind and what I think, surely I know what I see and having studied photography I know how to read these photographs. But you know how it is with me. I hesitate and sweat over words and where they might take me.
You, like I, have a vast world inside of you and therefore I know that if we were to look at these photos together, we would do so mostly in silence, pointing out the obvious but crucial details and wondering aloud. Whose cottage was it in one of those pictures and why was it so important that it was photographed? Who are those people at the back of the sleigh, where are they travelling to? Who took that photograph and where? And Venice! Walking in Venice is like walking in someone else's dream.
My favourite photograph is, unsurprisingly, the one with the little girl and the dog. I love that photo! Another favourite is the one of the ships. Or is it a photo of a sea, of the horizon or of light? Once one accepts the uncertainty of one’s visual perception, photographs begin to mainly contain questions, like riddles.
I have written this letter at least three times. I have had to purge it from my angry outbursts against the charges of post-structuralism, nihilism or whatever it is that the Art World, alongside mainstream academia, is steeped in. But when I have done that, when I have peeled away that defensive snappiness –how I dislike myself when I write like that! -, I find myself (did Malla ever reproach you of using this phrase in Finnish? It still sends shivers down my spine even when I say it, legitimately I hope, in English) terrifyingly empty. As if I wouldn’t know of anything else. I dare say, however, that that is not true. I do know of another way of thinking, of being, -that of faith and wonder- but I don’t have the words for it.
What is there to say about these photographs? To say anything more than to point out the obvious, to describe what I see, would be reading into the numerous possibilities of interpretations. But to say nothing feels as if I would leave something –what? - incomplete. As if by saying something about them and as if by sharing them with you or others, I would be able to hold onto or bring into light that whatever has put a spell on me.
Finding these photographs is in itself quite something. Imagine that someone has found them at their dead relative’s collections and given them to a shop to sell! I wonder if I happened to find these at a time when analogue photography had been pronounced dead and there was no wide interest in the older photographic techniques –and therefore in the philosophy and phenomenon of photography? I wonder if anyone who now found these kinds of photographs in their relative’s collection would give them away so easily?
Do you remember the photograph of Grandma’s mom on her wall? Have you ever thought...”
© Carita Silander
Preamble to the London Archive Essays
I asked a few friends and members of family to choose a photograph from the London Archive they would like to know more about. As this premise is my own devising, I have taken the artistic liberties necessary in answering this question. Bar a few exceptions, the result is a series of short essays combining a brief outline of historical information, consideration of photography as a medium as well as an account on how I ended up taking each particular photograph.