A photographic memory

I started taking photographs back in the 1970’s when I was in my late teens. My first “proper” camera where I could control exposure and focus, unlike the point and shoot Instamatic the family used on holidays, was a Zorki 4K, a communist Russian rangefinder loosely based upon the Leica. Later cameras included a Zenith SLR from East Germany, and a black Pentax Spotmatic (which I still have, though no longer functioning).

I have no memory of what made me start taking photographs but I do know that it became all consuming. I had just left school and I was considering what to do next. For a while I thought about becoming a freelance photographer and I manged to get some work in that area. I photographed the personnel of a local charity for their annual report and I also worked with a potter to picture every stage of the making of a teapot. Most memorably I cycled around the Dorset countryside photographing village post offices for a campaign to prevent their closure.

Sadly I did not have the persistence or the assertiveness to make my living out of photography but I still kept taking photographs. I remember thinking that it was something that defined me and that I would always be a photographer of some sort. And I was living somewhere with great photographic potential. Most weekends I would be out on the bicycle exploring the coast and country lanes of Dorset.

My choice of film was usually Kodachrome or some other slide film. The choice was an economic one as the cost of the film usually included developing. I did not need to hang on to exposed rolls before I could afford to get them developed and printed. I would only ever print a handful of the slides. Most of them remained a piece of processed film sandwiched between cardboard or plastic.

The photographs were taken forty years or so ago. For some reason, despite numerous moves, I have hung onto an old shoe box containing many of the slides. Recently, during the Covid 19 lockdown, like many of other people, I turned to tidying up. I found the shoe box and I got distracted from cleaning.

Holding each slide up to the light I wandered back through sunsets and sunrises, village churches, country lanes and solitary beaches. I discovered Weymouth Harbour as it looked in the early 1980’s; and Maiden Castle, the Iron Age hill fort, as it has always been. And as I looked at each of them I began to think of the one thing missing from them all. A figure standing on that beach or in that woodland or on that dirt track holding a camera to his eye.

Photography is often thought of as a form of memory but even though I took each photograph, that I was standing there looking at that scene, I have no recollection of the moment. Time has torn a hole between the person I was then and who I am now.

Once I had finished looking through the photographs and realising that I was not going to go out photographing for some time I thought I would re-purpose these old slides. I could have had prints made of them or scanned them. Instead I decided to try and create something new that would sum up that sense of distance between now and the time when the photographs were taken. I made myself a simple home made light box to view and photograph each slide and I chose a textured surface for the light box to capture that feeling of passing time and fading memory.

You can view some of the results in a gallery here, and a handful will be on a 2021 calendar available for pre-order here.

Published by Stephen Taylor

Freelance e-learning developer and instructional designer, photographer and cyclist

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