Robert Frank, the American photographer and filmmaker once said, “The eye should learn to listen before it looks”.
In our soundbite world of social media and disposable imagery, I think many of us have lost sight of this simple fact these days. We will happily snap away at things with our mobiles, without really appreciating the subject matter. Modern life, it seems, doesn’t exist for many unless it comes via Facebook, Youtube or the latest iPhone apps.
In the last couple of months I have had to trawl my way through over a century of family archives, ranging from birth certificates and wedding memorabilia to boxes of old photographs. Amongst these historical gems I found a few intriguing snapshots of a simpler age; a time before selfies and Twitter feeds, when the creation of a photo required some time and effort from all involved.
Someone once described the photograph as a door into the past. Amongst old biscuit tins and dusty cupboards I found doors aplenty; doors that opened up onto corridors stretching back to the turn of the last century. Many of the faces that stared back at me were complete strangers, inhabitants of a sepia-toned world of starched collars and cloche hats, without a selfie-stick between them.
Normally I can’t be bothered with more than a passing glance at the usual plethora of Instagram pics that assail us on a daily basis, but give me a dog-eared photo of someone’s Auntie Mabel on her wedding day in 1927 and I am hooked. Old photos, by their very nature, seem to acquire an allure and a fascination that is sadly missing in their digital offspring today.
I want to know more about these people, but sadly there is no one left to ask…