The gist of the well-known advice to writers goes something on the lines of ‘the “audience” is only “real” after the work is finished. To write for/towards a presumed audience is to strip yourself away from your work and to cater only to fears.’ I write and make my best works when I am able to do so ‘alone and by myself’ and struggle the most when I, for various reasons, cannot.
Perhaps I go wrong in thinking that the same should apply to the art world in the first place. There is an argument that art, as such, exists only in the art world and therefore works of art are by default in conversation with its current debates or trends. Art is thus made to a specific audience. What follows from pretending otherwise, ie not talking in ‘artspeak’, is the risk of being labelled as an amateur, a kind of a Sunday painter or a crafts seller instead of a serious artist. Or like people often say to me: ‘So it is a hobby for you then.’
On this journal, I have previously written about the way I have chosen to live; of not having an ambition to succeed in the Art World and about the decision to not write in ‘artspeak’ because it would require accepting its terms and values which I cannot fundamentally do. I cannot ignore this issue altogether however, already because it appears persistently as the presumed audience of my mind. And my goodness I bore myself when I begin to defend my work, again and again, against this imagined viewer.
But if I did want to appear serious, I would introduce this photo series, ‘Postcards’, by saying that I am investigating the notions of nostalgia by mimicking the language of iconic photographs of well-known monuments and places. I would say that I drew inspiration from the photographs my relatives took on their holidays in Europe in the 1980’s and 1990’s, that I remember looking through their photo albums when I was younger, flipping through the images, all in colour, all taken with 35ml compact or SLR cameras, printed in matt or glossy paper and all printed in the same 6 x 4 size. I would also say that I am referring to the usually black and white imagery that perhaps in our collective unconsciousness are considered classic as well as briefly allude to corresponding themes that were explored by the early photographers. I would be at pains to find a roundabout way of saying how the contemporary art discourse finds these images problematic when they really are just irritated by their prettiness.
I would then expand onto the language of nostalgia in photography and the way the medium creates a narrative to which the viewer can project themselves. I would go on to discuss the kind of narratives people nowadays create of and to themselves on social media and draw parallels and comparisons to the ones before the age of smartphones. I wouldn’t want to do this but I would feel like I had to, for the smart ass at the back of every gallery space.
I would say that the titles were inspired by the greetings on old postcards that are often for sale in second hand bookshops as well as vintage markets. However, if I really wanted to make this series into a competitive, serious work of art, I would have to add another spin to it. I could, for example, investigate these notions by using an element of play with the titles and greetings, which would also add a much-needed touch of sarcasm.
But then again, I don’t play that game.
I was inspired by my relatives’ travel photographs, the aesthetic of the 35ml film photographs, the prints’ colour tonality, the medium’s decisiveness and the not perfect images it therefore sometimes produces. I also love, just love older, black and white travel snapshots. I love old postcards and have a growing collection of them. My aim is to have one of each place I have visited. It is not just the image that I love about them but also their size and the kind of paper they are printed on.
There is something about reading people’s handwriting from ages ago; they are like photographs, a trace or an imprint of what had been there and what is no longer. Reading those greeting on the postcards is like over-hearing a conversation from decades ago.
The first, and the best, shots for this series were taken unintentionally. They were in the rolls of film that I took for another project for the course of a few years. I was going through those negatives and noticed how much they reminded me of the classic imagery of postcards. When I took those photographs, I didn’t see the view afresh but saw something that I recognised. In this way, I was guided by that unconscious, collective way of seeing the world.
Those are the ingredients in the evolution of this series. However, nothing happens without a reason or a purpose. Ultimately, I made the ‘Postcards’ to be able to tell the man whom I was secretly and unhappily in love with how I felt. That was the Big Bang. On the pretext of it being art, I posted the photos with their sultry titles on social media for everyone to see. It felt cheeky, like a game but I also got some relief from the sadness I felt. I adored this man and I suffered because of it.
Making this series was silly and not the way serious artists conduct themselves. I shouldn’t sink to such plebeian depths. But I did. I made, and wrote, the photo series with a specific audience in mind — the recipient of these Postcards, who probably saw them on social media but didn’t know that they were for him. The titles are embarrassing and corny but anyone who has ever been in love knows that those words are also cuttingly real.
© Carita Silander
Preamble to the London Archive Essays
I asked a few friends and family members to choose a photograph from the London Archive they would like to know more about. As this premise is my own doing, 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.