Sunday 25 June 2023

Not getting new photo albums

In 2019 at the end of a busy year – presented at a hospital in Jan I had a heart procedure, went to the Middle East in May, and started having panic attacks in Aug – I was tidying up the library in Pyrmont (a full three years after my mother had sadly died) and thought about what to do with hundreds of photos found in her records. There were also ones that I had left over from my rambles in Australia, Japan and China 40 years earlier at a time when, having no studio to practice art, I carried my camera around with me in streets I wandered. 

And now, in 2023 – a full seven years after surviving my mother’s death – I finally managed to summon the resolve to do something about all the confusion and mess. I decided to tidy up the drawers full of family photos and, in so doing, lay some of my demons to rest.

I turned to the Cumberland photo albums from the Photo Album Shop that the accompanying invoice says I bought on 14 Dec 2019. I began to get busy in the dining room filling two albums, sticking down the clear plastic corners and aligning the images carefully then throwing away the old contact-plastic albums that regrettably had started to disintegrate with the plastic film coming away from the adhesive backing. Then I took another step and amalgamated the two albums into one.

I wanted to buy more as I envisaged getting some of my many stored computer files printed on paper. I emailed the album shop on 15 June asking if they would swap some of my refills (top left in photo) for new albums with a different item number because what I had were now unfortunately out of stock. No reply by 19 June but in the meantime I’d done a good deal of work sorting things out, which also included a process of summoning up files on my computer and putting them on a USB stick I could take to Pixel Perfect, my print outlet in Chippendale. 

There were hundreds of them going up to 2009, where I stopped out of respect for the process, I didn’t want to be too completist and potentially outrage the universe so I put a limit on the timeframe to make things more manageable and modest. Nevertheless I had about 700 files to print and resolved to get them done in batches in order to spread the cost out over time but in the end the unit cost persuaded me to go back to the store – I was already a kilometre away on the way home (I’d reached Waterloo) when it dawned on me that the prints would only cost 60 cents and not six dollars each – and deposit the rest with the man behind the counter. In fact they even give a discount for volumes over 500 so it was good that I decided in the end to get them all done at once and the driving at that time of day was ok.

I took another step in the right direction on 23 June when I emailed my cousin Maria Celeste Bernardo who lives in Portugal asking in English (which she speaks) if she’d help put names to faces. I explained about the album in my email and within a day she’d sent a complete list of captions for 30 images I’d sent in a PDF I made with my scanning software supplied by HP. Even if I couldn’t get more of the large-format albums I could get information that would help me finish the project, a project made more difficult because it was psychically close to the death of my mother. As I mentioned at the start of this post she died in 2016 and it wasn’t until 2023 – a full seven years later – that I was able to summon up the gumption to get involved fully in the task of sorting and classifying. As I noted to Maria Celeste I am a man for whom nothing is not detailed and complex and I need to find a space in my life big enough for everything that I do. With the photo albums it took seven years to find that space, more in fact because my mother’s death came at the end of a period of six years lived in Queensland when I was looking after her on a daily basis, cooking for her, managing her finances, tidying up the charity mess she made because people kept on ringing her and asking for her credit card details. I actually spent more than a decade finding the courage to face my past in the form of a thousand family photographs.

Sunday 11 June 2023

Selecting family photos to put in an album

For the past few weeks I’ve been going through a chest of drawers containing old family photos. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that this has been in turn traumatising and revelatory. I’m writing about the process in my end-of-year post of course but today’s post will be a brief overview.

There are five drawers in the item of furniture and thousands of photos in the form of prints, negatives and positives. In some cases I’m taking negatives to the print shop to get proof sheets made so I can select images to have printed. In addition to regular family snapshots I’ve found some photos I took as part of my art practice in the 80s, which has been an added and pleasant bonus bec I thought all of these images had – apart from some which I’d scanned 15 years ago – lost inextricably.

Because such losses are a recurring source of sadness I resolved to put together a captioned album for my family in Japan. Despite having spent several weeks doing the sorting and selection necessary for the project, further time will be required to finish it. I have from several years ago (I think this was done in 2019) bought albums, spare leaves, and sticky corners, so all that is necessary to get the job done. As with anything worthwhile time is needed to get it right, and I promise to set up my dysfunctional laptop on my studio table so I can go through the photos one by one and write the captions in an accessible spot.

The difficulty inherent in this task is married to the motivation, on the one hand reliving the feelings the photos inspires is a source of irritation, but for the same reason I feel pain I am also compelled to complete the job.

Apart from the photo album I plan to make I will also get my framer to create a special album for the press cuttings that have been collected over the past 100 years, my grandmother Bea Dean (nee Kewish) made a little envelope to be full of clippings from newspapers and I plan to do a proper job. It’s going to be about 16 pages and will also include snapshots in black and white that mum handed down. I think that with experience I’ve garnered over the years – I worked in publishing in one form of another from 1985 to 2009 – I am uniquely placed to finish this project.

The clipping album will be something I can send around to family members to spend time with, we’re all over the place now in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, NSW. They can then send the album back to me, it’ll actually be more like a book with pages that you can turn. The feature of this item will be that the text is in the form of newspaper cuttings that Bea collected as well as some others that came from different family members. My great-grandfather Robert James Kewish is notable in this regard as he was a journalist and so there are some longer articles written about him. Where for most people a death will be marked by a notice in the paper paid for by a wife or son, in his case there is a whole article chronicling his life.

I feel privileged to be able to make this thing, it seems like a unique and special object that can be cherished for hundreds of years by generations. 

I only hope it survives. I got some work done on several heirlooms including an 1831 Bible that belonged to someone in the family I’m not sure who, that job cost $5000 but now I have something that I can happily pass onto my children if they want it, or else give to a cousin if they want it. You can never tell what people will want to do with possessions, some might treasure them others might just want the space and so put something up for sale.