Archive-obsession

I have always appreciated old objects, even as a child. Sneaking into abandoned buildings was a hobby of mine as a little girl—and there is no better ground for such adventures than a small Hungarian village. Forgotten treasures like spinning wheels, religious artefacts or old suitcases full of toys under a silky dust blanket were almost guaranteed. [Once I also found an incidentally-mummified tabby cat but that story is for another day.]

Growing up, I was a regular to the antique shops in the nearby town, spending a serious part of my allowance on books of my grandparents’ age. And, of course, there was also our very own collection of tokens of fading family memories, carefully placed in lavishly decorated bonbon boxes grateful for a second life: discoloured photographs of long-dead relatives and their friends. I’m the first one to admit that I’m rather obsessed with this archive—so much so that they inspired an entire master thesis.

Given this, I have a soft spot for initiatives that have something to do with archival photography. One of these wonderful organisations is Europeana Collections, working hard to provide free access to its ever-growing assortment of digitized items, be it music, books or visual arts. Currently, one can easily access about 50 million items through their website with approximately 3.5 million photographs amongst those. [Just imagine the major amount of chocolate cartons they could fill!]

Now, for me, archives provide endless fun. While finding good stuff is time-consuming, it also is terribly rewarding. And quite a good way to make sure I always have something to write about.

To warm up, here is a gem from Girona, Spain, thanks to Photoconsortium:

Dolls from a catalogue [Or else ‘The envy, the smug and the absentminded’. ]

This glass plate from the 1930s or 1940s never fails to make me smile. I come from a big family: I’m familiar with the pictured dynamics. Being the youngest, I usually played the role of the ‘absentminded’. (Although I have considerable experience in the other two parts as well.)

The first catalogue in history was published in 1498. Its purpose was to help Aldus Manutius, founder of the famous Aldine Press, to introduce his books to the people of Venice. A few centuries later, prospectuses became part of everyday life, largely helped by the introduction of photography. As printing techniques improved, better and better images could illustrate publications. By the time the creator of this negative was hired for the job, photographs were pretty good-looking in printed matters.

Whether this image was meant for wholesalers or consumers, I cannot know. I can imagine a clumsy photographer, however, trying to make the most out of the situation. They probably had to follow strict guidelines set up by the client—or they simply possessed no creativity whatsoever. And yet, the way the dolls are placed, how their glances meet, their facial expressions tell me a story. If I were a little girl once again, up in an attic, discovering these toys, I would for sure feel my maternal instinct awaken: an urge to save that baby on the right from the other two that are clearly conspiring against their little mate. The universe must have sent me there to intervene, after all!

I wonder what happened to these very playthings. Burnt in a fire? Destroyed by the war? Ended up in a museum; or the ocean? And all the others these three helped to sell: where are they now? Were there any little boys that would have given the world for a chance to play with them in peace? How many little girls hated them secretly? How much joy they must have caused!?

God bless all those people who work in archives, enabling me and the like-minded to rant about an imaginary past. Thank you!

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The hunter and gatherer

Ever since my childhood, I have always admired old books. I was a regular in the tiny antique (book)store in the closest town. Back then, I was into novels and poetry—and outdated lexicons.

Despite my long-time obsession with aged objects, only recently I have started to collect photographs. Mostly vintage vernacular snapshots by anonymous makers, randomly found in secondhand shops, on fleamarkets or online. My theme is rather specific*, therefore I have no more than a couple of dozen images so far. Beyond that, my only criterion is that it has to be cheap. (Like really cheap: not more than a couple of Euros.)

What I enjoy the most about this new pastime is that it has turned my trips into (strictly harmless) hunting expeditions and opened up new worlds. There aren’t many things that I find as rewarding as scoring a long-forgotten moment capturing my imagination. As a cherry on top, the places where I find them often are wonderful encounters themselves.

Now I know that Argosy Books Store is the place to be for all book-lovers and print-hunters in Midtown, Manhattan. Oh, girl, the pleasures of a long-established spot in a mysterious building that, most possibly, hasn’t changed a bit for decades! I wouldn’t call Argosy inexpensive but the experience is precious. In the end, I left with an overpriced trophy from New York and a large smile. (Now, I’m notoriously stingy indeed, but 5 Dollars for the kind of photographs I collect is a lot.)

I also popped into Bauman Rare Books, where pretty much everything was out of my league. It did feel great however to flip through a signed Weegee autobiography worth 2500 Dollars and a few other wonderful first editions that I will never be able to afford. Lovely people working in both stores, by the way. An important detail.

*If things go according to plan, I will highlight some of these findings on a new blog very soon.

The prodigal daughter returns

It’s been almost an entire year since I have written a post here. Not that I had nothing to share, I had seen a lot of good (and bad) photography. 2018 was busy—and writing came last. (A thing that has to change.)

Currently, I’m in the glorious city of New York,  sitting in a hotel room on the 15th floor. What I see through the dusty windows is pretty inspiring. Far from the fantastic view I experienced yesterday on the Top of the Rock, nevertheless, refreshing with all its water towers and reflected lights. I’m a corner away from a major bucket list item of mine, MoMA, waiting for it to open in about 30 minutes. Life keeps on treating me rather well.

New York is beyond my expectations. It doesn’t feel as big as it is: people are friendly and the streets are clean. Sure, I have been sampling Manhattan only. Still, let me be biased for a little while.

Update, one museum of modern arts, a rather good quiche and two amazing bookstores later: I can officially declare that New York is my cup of tea.

Tomorrow, I will go into details.

Busy weeks

The first few weeks of the year have been pretty busy – in the best possible sense. Next week, I am starting a teeny tiny cooperation with an Amsterdam printing company that hopefully will lead to an internship. For now, I will spend a few days with the team in charge of perfect colours and hope for the best: earning the chance to stay with them longer. A wonderful opportunity I’m truly grateful for. I cannot wait to start!

Yesterday, I started a course in analogue printing techniques. This had been on my wishlist for years! We spent the first lesson handsetting lead type. It was heavens. Just like in a darkroom developing photographs… Oh, girl, I’m thrilled!

Other than that, writing assignments are queuing up, slowly but surely. I’m working on a longer essay about Jacob Riis that is due in May, and I just got another request to address next week’s Haute Photography in Rotterdam.

Here’s to a promising start of the new year!

Autumn Lights

There are two things I love about autumn: its photogenic lights and the beginning of the cultural season.

This year I started with NEU NOW, a festival that I had never visited before. The website was at least as intriguing as it was confusing so I got a ticket. It turned out to be a total waste of money as all my schedule allowed me to attend was the exposition that is free of charge…

To be fair when I was complaining about the fact that the website was not clear on this at all they were more than cooperative and even though I couldn’t get my money back I left with a very good impression.

NEU NOW is tiny – or at least much smaller than what I expected. Nevertheless it delivers on quality: Europe’s emerging talent couldn’t be any more promising.

Jaeyong Choi’s ‘Mass’ is mortifying and fascinating at the very same time. Reminds me of artistic experiments of my own a while ago – in a properly executed version and on a scale I would have never even dreamt of. A plastic cloud of human connections. I can’t help but think of one’s inevitable struggles by drowning in today’s fabricated social media “reality”, just like an unsuspecting fish swimming around in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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And then onto the wonderful photography of Viktorija Eksta. A story of the possible life of a Latvian woman somewhere in the countryside, based on real life legacy someone left behind. An abandoned house full of faded hopes and desires, a tactile memoire, reenacted, reinterpreted. I cannot imagine any better way to be remembered.

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NEU NOW was an excellent choice to start the season, I will definitely show up next year as well. And now on to UNSEEN, then Paris Photo, here I come.

For the complete list of participating artists please click here.

EXPO: Barbara Galvács – Dignity

Before I even start describing what is going on in the back room of VondelCS I must admit: Barbara Galvács is a dear friend of mine, a companion in emotional times. I’m unquestionably biased.

Now that you are aware, I can introduce you to this group exhibition in the midst of the beautiful greenery of Vondelpark. An excellent spot to show (off) what you got. Barbara Galvács, Cissie van der Ven and Juel McNeilly joined forces with Ingeborg Brounts to introduce you to what they call the ‘female identity’. A hip topic these days, especially after the Olympic Games bringing up all the discrimination women have to deal with. Being a woman isn’t easy. (For the record, I’m not saying it’s easy to be a man, but let’s talk about that another time.)

Galvács’s photography is fragile, in the most noble sense. It’s like a beautifully arranged set of stained glass windows in conversation with one another. No meaningless chatter but dignified, deep thoughts bring them together. Wise words whispered from one suffering body to another, the proof of virtue and the strength of the human soul.

Cissie van der Ven’s self portraits are a radiant match – quite literally. Daring reflections of alter egos we all long to prove at some point in life. Most of us never ventures into the fancy worlds of animal prints and nipple pasties though. Sometimes I wonder: would it be a better place with less self-consciousness – or just a world where selfie sticks are on the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid.

Ed van Teeseling’s Rubenesque sculptures, thanks to the collaboration with Ingeborg Brounts, the late artist’s wife, and Juel McNeilly’s collection of light-hearted (yet thought-provoking) street interviews make the exposition complete.

I am convinced there is nothing better you could spend 30 minutes of your free time on. Go grab a coffee and look around in that back room of VondelCS. You have until 4th September.

Berlin

Gevangenis Noordsingel, Rotterdam