1. Antiques Mall
|Nina's family photo album and the Antiques Mall where I discovered it, Wheatridge, Colorado (the antiques mall no longer exists).|
Twenty-seven years ago, I happened upon an album of family photographs, sadly abandoned in a Denver antiques mall. I was seduced by the images and purchased the album. I felt I was rescuing it from oblivion. The photographer was obviously an amateur, not experienced in the basics such as composition and lighting. However, their reflection was in the faces of everyone they photographed. When I discovered the album, I had recently completed a photography undergraduate degree at Edinburgh Napier University. The degree course advanced my technical skills and my ability to construct stories using images. Most significantly however, I became cognizant about how photography could function as a lens through which to contemplate my own existence. With that realization in mind, the discovery of a seemingly insignificant little album of family photographs, made by a person I did not know – and will never meet – transpired to be an exceptionally significant occurrence. The photographer would become my most influential teacher. Consequently, their imprint is on everything I have accomplished since.
After completing graduate studies in photography at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and then gaining employment at the University of Denver, the enduring effect of the album of found family photographs persisted. Having scrutinized the album for ten-years, a connection with the people and places in the photographs developed. As a consequence, I was motivated to find out more about the photographer, and where the photographs were taken. With the aid of a geographical reference accompanying one of the photographs, (Jim River) plus the photographers’ inscription on the inside cover of the album, (Nina Weiste) an internet search revealed that the photographs were made in Ellendale, North Dakota, between 1917 and 1919 while Nina Weiste, the photographer, was a student at the State Normal and Industrial School.
When I arrived in Ellendale for the first time, (2003) I had an uncanny sense of, coming home, which substantiated my primary objective of becoming more conscious of interconnection, or rather, to become more connected. Intellectually I sensed that all things are related. However, I was unable to relate this to personal experience. Coincidentally, or so I thought, the movie, What the Bleep Do We Know!?, was released shortly before my departure for Ellendale. The point of the movie was portraying quantum theory in lay-persons terms, through the experience of a photographer who could neither hear, nor speak. I went to see What the Bleep for seven consecutive days. It was as if the universe, or Nina Weiste, had sent a signal to confirm that I was on the correct philosophical track. And so, inspired by Nina’s family photographs, and What the Bleep Do We Know, I headed off to North Dakota to celebrate how one thing leads to another.
My Family Album project continued from 2003 until 2017. Throughout that period, I travelled to Ellendale many times. Initially I photographed the landscape, but quickly transitioned to photographing the people who inhabited the landscape. While interacting with residents of a retirement community, I became acutely aware of the intimate association between photography and memory. Most resident’s rooms resembled shrines to their existence. Walls were adorned with framed photographs of significant people and life events. What’s worth remembering was abbreviated to a handful of photographs. Inspired by that discovery, I began to incorporate the use of family photographs as catalysts for sharing life-stories. My technique was straightforward. I asked each person to identify a most significant family photograph, and then share associated stories. When I was invited to spend four-months in Ellendale as the town’s first Artist in Residence, I engaged the same technique with approximately eight-hundred local-residents – five-years old, to one-hundred years old. As a direct consequence of that experience, intergenerational community engagement, via the genre of family photography, emerged to become a major theme within my personal art practice and teaching.
Web Portfolio: Family Album (in Five Chapters) – https://roddymac.com/section/492990-Family-Album-Five-Chapters.html