Updated: Jul 24, 2021
During my second year at uni, I started buying packs of old wedding negatives on eBay for a project where I was focusing on marriage (I have no idea why…). Essentially I needed photos of weddings, and this seemed like the best way to go about finding them, rather than asking to use family archives - and apparently, a lot of people seemed to be selling packs of wedding negatives, like that’s a normal thing. I think the two main packs I used must have come from a retired photographer’s extensive archive, flogged without a second thought by whoever’s hands they eventually fell into.
I ended up hating the project (this happened a lot at uni), but there were a few of the experiments made in the process which I still like, and I enjoyed manipulating the negatives on my lightbox to create a manual photoshop session. Anyway, I held on to the negatives, knowing they’d be useful one day but also feeling a need to look after them and feeling some responsibility for their preservation. It wasn’t for a few years that I started to think; these are not my memories. I suddenly felt uncomfortable owning these seemingly meaningless artefacts, posting pictures of them on Instagram… I even had a sort of weird fake wedding album now in my projects archive (part of the ‘Image & Page’ uni project).
It feels like a strange sort of voyeurism; becoming an uninvited guest at such an intimate event.
And yet, somehow, in taking in these little packs of someone else’s memories, perhaps I am safeguarding that moment. Linked to my research into Jo Spence and her belief of an afterlife for the individual existing for so long as there are people who still remember them. [more on Spence]. I keep them in with my own negatives, built up over the years, and those saved from old family photo packs, as well as buying more from eBay.
Later, when I started working with cyanotypes, I looked to these old packs again to practice exposing 120mm film - but taking a break from my own negatives (all nudes or portraits). For a while, I wondered if I should look into their lives, to see if there was any record of them online - all I knew was their married couple names (i.e. Mr & Mrs X), for some there may be a photo of the church name to reveal a location but no dates, no first names. They could be anywhere now. Were they still married? How many children did they have? … are they even alive still!? I've imagined my own narratives for the nameless characters before me, created break ups, glow-ups, and visual love letters.
I have no intention of allowing this train of thought to stop me using these negatives as a tool or subject, as the whole idea still fascinates me. Also, for the fact that they are just jolly useful, rather beautiful and that little bit mysterious and potentially bordering on the macabre. I won’t touch on the debate of ownership, as I’m still figuring that one out. I’m keeping this one short, because I know I’ll be coming back to it soon…