On my ride home last night I found myself thinking more about the old photo project, for which I will be basically scanning a whole bunch of old photos, tintypes, cabinet cards, etc to work with for some collages. It was a huge batch of photos my aunt gave me last time I was home, and while she didn't seem particularly attached to them really, she thought I might be able to do something with them. They seem to be primarily from my maternal grandmother's family, though with a couple of exceptions, so many generations back, it's hard to know who is who. My first impulse was to get scans of them, digitize everything for posterity's sake, and then use the originals in the art project (I guess since, as physical objects, they don't seem to have any sentimental value to anyone in my family). I have conflicting impulses when it comes to such things, hating clutter, the incessant hoarding of things, hating the idea of photographs mouldering away in boxes where no one sees them (and most likely getting thrown out anyway as soon as someone dies--witness the antique fairs are filled by the binful with these orphan photos). Why not use them to make something interesting, something beautiful, something useful since they are neither particularly sentimentally valuable nor particularly financially valuable (this sort of stuff being very common).
But I just can't do it. Something makes me want to hold onto them for dear life. Maybe it's the pure nature of them as objects, as the very same photo that some woman, most likely some woman related to me, held the very same photo in her hands that I am holding in mine. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with being people related to me or not. It seems important that they were any people, people who sat for long photo sittings, wore strange hats, and probably paid quite a bit for a session in those days. People that ate dinner, took walks, read books, held conversations. Whoever they were a 100 plus years ago and how they are related/not related to me, it doesn't matter. So much is always lost, but so much is also kept. I remember after my grandmother died when I was 8 or 9, sitting at her coffee table piled with hundreds and hundreds of photos my mom and aunt were sorting and dividing among family, alot of them just snapshots of family, friends, people she had know and feeling, I guess crushed by history, by the weight of things, objects, the stuff we leave behind, what does or doesn't happen to them. When I was in college, I was part of a volunteer group to help in some Mississippi flooding clean-up, and remember the house we worked on, the wreckage, the water laden boxed of albums and ephemera, the black & white photos pasted to the floors and walls by the mud and water, how I was struck by a wave of nausea over the lost things that couldn't be fixed or maintained.
It seems odd in the era of digitization, where most of my own taken photos never leave the ether of the internets, but somehow, digital things seem even frailer. In theory they are preserved that way, made available for everyone, filed and stored away on Facebook, on flickr. Millions of bits and images all available at the touch of a button, but yet, somehow, they don't seem quite as real as something on paper. This might be part of my resistance to e-books and digital readers, my love of hard copies, my need to put papery things out into the universe, if only, a hundred years from now, someone to hold one of our chapbooks, or a piece of art, or a postcard, a letter, in their hands and feel that connection to the other people who have ever held that same object in their hands, read the same pages, left their fingerprints, smudge marks, marginalia.