Posts Tagged ‘1950s

23
Mar
09

Photograph: The Passing of Memory: resurrecting a photograph for the series ‘The Shape of Dreams’

March 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

 

Marcus Bunyan
Oakland, 7-’51 from the series The Shape of Dreams (restored)
2009

 

 

“Fragments of harmonic lines assemble and collapse as the meaning of each interval must be continually revised in light of the unfolding precession of further terms in an ultimately unsustainable syntax. The mind’s ear tries to remember the sum of passing intervals, but without the ability to incorporate them into larger identifiable units each note inevitably lapses back into silence, surrendered to the presence of the currently sounding tone, itself soon to give way to another newly isolated note in its turn.”

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Craig Dworkin1

 

 

The Passing of Memory

Thinking about this photograph

I bought an album on Ebay that contained an anonymous aviator with snapshots of his life: photographs of him in Oakland, California, Cologne in Germany and flying out of Italy – photos of his buddies and the work they did, the places they visited, the fun they had.

This one photograph has haunted me more than the rest.

Who was he? What was his life like? Do he get married and have children? Is he still alive?

When scanned the image was so dirty, so degraded, that I spent 7 weeks of my life cleaning and restoring the photograph working all hours of the day and night. I was obsessive almost to the point of obstinacy. Many times I nearly gave up as I thought the task impossible – thousands of dots and hairs inhabited the surface of the image and, surely, it was just another photograph one of millions that circle the world. Why expend so much energy just to resurrect this one particular image?

 

Some things that can be said about this photograph

It is small measuring only 9cm high by 7.5 cm wide

It is printed on cheap glossy photographic paper which now has a slight yellow tinge to it.

The image is creased at top left.

The back is annotated ‘Oakland, 7-’51’

The dark roundel with the wing on the side of the aircraft has faint text that spells out the words ‘AERO ACE’.

There is no engine in the aircraft and it looks from the parts lying on the ground that the aircraft is being broken up or used for spares.

The man is wearing work overalls with unidentifiable insignia on them, a worker on the aircraft being dismantled or just a fitter on the base.

Someone standing on the ground has obviously called out the man’s name and he has turned around in response to the call and lent forward and put out his hand in greeting – a beautiful spontaneous response – and the photograph has been taken.

 

Some other things that can be said about this photograph, in passing

The sun splashes the man’s face. He smiles at the camera.

His arm rests gently on the metal of the aircraft, shielded from the sun.

Perhaps he wears a ring on his fifth finger.

He is blind.

This photograph is an individual, isolated note in the fabric of time. It could easily pass into silence as memory and image fade from view. Memories of the individual form the basis for remembering and photographs act as an aide-memoire both for individual memory and the collective memory that flows from individual memory. Memory is always and only partial and fragmentary – who is remembering, what are they remembering, when do they remember, what prompts them to remember and how these memories are incorporated into the collective memory, an always mediated phenomenon that manifests itself in the actions and statements of individuals, are important questions.

Images are able to trigger memories and emotional responses to a particular time and place, but since this photograph has no personal significance what is going on here? Why did I cry when I was restoring it? What emotional association was happening inside me?

“To remember is always to give a reading of the past, a reading which requires linguistic skills derived from the traditions of explanation and story-telling within a culture and which [presents] issues in a narrative that owes its meaning ultimately to the interpretative practices of a community of speakers. This is true even when what is remembered is one’s own past experience… [The] mental image of the past … becomes a phenomenon of consciousness only when clothed with words, and these owe their meaning to social practices of communication.”2

.
His blindness stares at us while underneath his body walks away into his passing.

I have become the speaker for this man, for this image.

His brilliant face is our brilliant face.

In this speaking, the phenomenon of making the image conscious, the gap between image and presence, between the photo and its shadow has collapsed. There is no past and present but a collective resonance that has presence in images.

Such reasoning questions the separation of past and present in a fundamental way. As a consequence it becomes fruitless to discuss whether or not a particular event or process remembered corresponds to the actual past: all that matters are the specific conditions under which such memory is constructed as well as the personal and social implications of memories held.”3

‘The personal and social implications of memories held’. Or not held, if images are lost in passing.

It is such a joyous image, the uplifted hand almost in supplication. I feel strong connection to this man. I bring his presence into consciousness in my life, and by my thinking into the collective memory. Perhaps the emotional response is that as I get older photographs of youth remind me of the passing of time more strongly. Perhaps the image reminds me of the smiling father I never had. These are not projections of my own feelings but resonances held in the collective memory.

As Susan Sontag has observed,

“Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself. Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. So the belief that remembering is an ethical act is deep in our natures as humans, who know we are going to die, and who mourn those who in the normal course of things die before us – grandparents, parents, teachers and older friends.”4

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Remembering is an ethical act. It is also a voluntary act. We can choose not to remember. We can choose to forget. In this photograph I choose to remember, to not let pass into the dark night of the soul. My mind, eyes and heart are open.

This is not a simulacra of an original image but an adaptation, an adaptation that tries to find resonances between past and present, between image and shadow. As such this photograph is no longer an isolated tone that inevitably lapses back into silence but part of a bracketing of time that is convulsingly beautiful in it’s illumination, it’s presence. The individual as collective, collected memory present for all to see.

The form of formlessness, the shape of dreams.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Dworkin, Craig. “Grammar Degree Zero (Introduction to Re-Writing Freud)” (2005) [Online] Cited 23rd March, 2009 (no longer available online)
  2. Holtorf, Cornelius. “Social Memory,” part of a doctoral thesis Monumental Past: The Life-histories of Megalithic Monuments in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany) submitted 1998 [Online] Cited on 23rd March 2009
  3. Ibid.,
  4. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p. 103

 

shape-v-man-plane-before

Before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

After

 

shape-v-man-small-before

Before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

After

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

Before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

After

 

shape-v-tyre-feet-before

Before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

After

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

Before

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Oakland, 7-'51' from the series 'The Shape of Dreams' 2009

After

 

 

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05
Jan
09

Exhibition: ‘Steam and Steel: The Photographs of O. Winston Link’ at George Eastman Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 11th October 2008 – 25th January 2009

 

O. Winston Link. 'Hot Shot Eastbound, at the Iaeger Drive-In. W.V. Aug. 2, 1956'

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001)
Hot Shot Eastbound, at the Iaeger Drive-In. W.V. Aug. 2, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
O. Winston Link/© Conway Link
Courtesy of the O. Winston Link Museum

Link pasted the plane into the negative at a later stage

 

 

I have to admit to a very large amount of admiration for this photographer. He is brilliant, simply the best photographer of trains and their cultural surrounds that the world has ever seen. He persevered within his photographic projects through thick and thin. I feel a special affinity toward this man as I love trains, planes, ships and trucks (although I am yet to use trains in my work).

As with all great photographers he pursued his goals with passion, a unique eye and the ability to produce a ‘signature’ photograph that could only be his. His photographs are timeless remembrances of the history and culture of the era. The above image combines all the elements of 1950s America – the drive in, the couple, the speed, the convertible car, night and the ambiguous slightly sinister rocket like plane. Planes, trains and automobiles are the stuff of legend for me, a child of the 1950s. The lighting of the train is incredible, with rows of flash set off at just the right moment. The precision and skill to do this and the resulting tableaux have few equals. When I first saw this image I was amazed and still am today!

O. Winston Link had a deep respect for the people and machines he was photographing – capturing a vanishing world before it all but disappeared. Thank god there was someone with vision and foresight to accomplish this task so that these incredible and indelible images will forever transcend the time in which they were taken, to give joy to the people that look at them.

Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the George Eastman Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001) 'Maud Bows to the Virginia Creeper, Green Cove, Virginia, October 27, 1956'

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001)
Maud Bows to the Virginia Creeper, Green Cove, Virginia, October 27, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
15 1/2 x 19 3/8 in. (39.37 x 49.21 cm)
O. Winston Link/© Conway Link
Courtesy of the O. Winston Link Museum

 

 

The Abingdon Branch of the N&W led Link to another approach in his documentation of the railroad. Since the trains did not run at night, all of the images had to be made in daylight, making this branch the source of many of his genre scenes and colour images. The branch was short but steep, including the highest point of any passenger train in the east. With top speeds of 25 mph, it earned the nickname “Virginia Creeper.”

Link found the slow pace and setting the most bucolic of the entire N&W system. He wrote, “There was beauty at every curve and every bridge.” The line crept by cascading waterways and across high wooden trestles. Although the entire branch was abandoned in 1978, the railbed has since become a hiking trail, with Green Cove the only station remaining and restored to the look of this photograph.

Text from the Akron Art Museum website

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001) '"Giant Oak," Max Meadows, Va., Dec. 30, 1957'

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001)
“Giant Oak,” Max Meadows, Va., Dec. 30, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
O. Winston Link/© Conway Link
Courtesy of the O. Winston Link Museum

 

 

“Ogle Winston Link, known commonly as O. Winston Link, has been revered by many as the most important railroad photographer of all time. He is best known for his black-and-white photography and sound recordings of the last days of steam locomotive railroading in the United States in the late 1950s. A true American master, Link produced night-time photographs of the railroad over a five-year period that ended when the last steam locomotive of the Norfolk & Western Railway was taken out of service in May 1960.

This exhibition features more than 100 framed photographs as well as Link’s actual photographic and lighting equipment, plus his personal notebooks detailing set-ups, formulas, and exposure details.”

Text from the George Eastman Museum website

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001) 'NW1635, The Birmingham Special, arriving at Rural Retreat, Va.' 1957

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001)
NW1635, The Birmingham Special, arriving at Rural Retreat, Va.
1957
Gelatin silver print
O. Winston Link/© Conway Link
Courtesy of the O. Winston Link Museum

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001) '"The Birmingham Special Crosses Bridge 201," near Radford, Va., Dec. 17, 1957'

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001)
“The Birmingham Special Crosses Bridge 201,” near Radford, Va., Dec. 17, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
O. Winston Link/© Conway Link
Courtesy of the O. Winston Link Museum

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001) '"Second Pigeon Creek Shifter and Icicles," near Gilbert, W.Va., March 16, 1960'

 

O. Winston Link (American, 1914-2001)
“Second Pigeon Creek Shifter and Icicles,” near Gilbert, W.Va., March 16, 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print
O. Winston Link/© Conway Link
Courtesy of the O. Winston Link Museum

 

Unknown photographer. '"Link Sets Up Two View Cameras at Bridge 8," Watauga, Va., Nov. 1, 1957'

 

Unknown photographer
“Link Sets Up Two View Cameras at Bridge 8,” Watauga, Va., Nov. 1, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
Thomas H. Garver/© Conway Link
Courtesy of the O. Winston Link Museum

 

 

George Eastman Museum
900 East Ave, Rochester, NY 14607, USA

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 11am – 5pm
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

O. Winston Link Museum

George Eastman House website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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