Photo story: the photograph as a time machine – by Erik Gould
I don’t make very many prints. Relatively speaking that is, considering how many pictures I make for myself and as part of my job. Even the ones I do make mostly end up sitting in boxes and bins waiting for the next show or that wealthy collector who never seems to arrive. The print in question, the one here in my hand has been sitting on my perpetually cluttered desk for a long time, likely years now. How and why it arrived here I don’t recall, but I imagine it was for no other reason than I liked it and like a stray kitten, it had nowhere to go.
I still like it. I love it in fact because of the image and for reasons that lie beyond it. My professional life is a digital life, a world ruled by the disembodied image, a free-floating spectre in code. “Can you send me that image?” “We are requesting rights to use that image for all uses including those not yet invented…” “We need that image!” It can fly around and be in multiple places at once. It can be nowhere, a ghost in a machine waiting to be summoned. It’s never a thing to be held in hand, not at all the way this print is.
The print, this print, this object, is more than it’s image and less, in its limitations. It is a thing, a physical fact that has its own life and story.
This print’s story is that it was one of many work prints made to help me edit and sequence a group of pictures made in the Mohawk Valley. It had a purpose. I prefer to sequence images using prints, rather than on screen; I find it easier to build relationships between pictures that way.
Its non-standard size came about because I make work prints on whatever paper I might have on hand. This time it was the remainder of my last box of 11×14 Agfa MCC. Cut in two; the sheets are the perfect proportion for printing a full frame 6×9 negative. The developer was the Ansco 130 formula that I mix from scratch. The glycin in this formula imparts a delicate glow to the highlights and pairs wonderfully with the Agfa MCC. Such a paper and developer combination may seem pretty fancy for just work prints, but I find printing at least a few negatives this way gives me a much better sense of how an exhibition print might look. That bit of reassurance can be very helpful midway through a big project.
Some special something caused me to linger over this particular workprint, and so it was spared from the box to land on my desk.
Often buried it seems to surface to remind me of what drew me to photography at the beginning. I learned to read a photograph as a source document from my dad; he was a historian, and for him, a photograph was a tool first, something to be used and studied. Only later did I learn to consider physical qualities like the sheen of a print’s surface, its color warmth, the tonality of the shadows and the contrast carried in the middle tones. I admit I stare at the print on my desk admiring such things.
Sometimes it’s there upside down, and I find I’m thinking about the composition; seeing just a pattern of grey shapes and texture. I’ll pick up a detail that went unnoticed, or I’ll see a connection to some other picture that I hadn’t yet made; a visual echo.
A photograph can be a time machine, and this one is no exception, transporting me to that day, free to wander, sunlight and high haze overhead. A moment imbued with excitement, boredom, self-doubt, anxiety. I’ll find that I just sit and wonder, pondering over the mysteriousness of this photography thing we do which seems at once so transparent and straightforward but in its effect; ineffable.
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