I was in England last week for a wedding.
A brief and very enjoyable trip. I stayed with my mother. While there, she gave me an old box of photographs of mine that I'd left behind when I moved to the United States in late in 1980. I was rather amazed that she still had it, in truth, as my mother and I have moved several times since.
I think she kept it because it contained some old yearbooks dating from my days at preparatory school. Oh yes, my life started out down roads very different from the ones I eventually followed. Prep school for starters never led to a Public boarding school. Thank goodness.
Regardless, the box also contained a small number of photograph packets dating from 1980. Not many prints, as most had been removed. Some saved, some lost. Some I still have, faded now.
Not just prints though. To my amazement, for I genuinely thought these were long gone, I found a good number of negatives. Tucked away in plastic sleeves, as the better processing laboratories were wont to do.
The sleeves were starting to fall apart. Not the film strips, though. Most looked untouched from 35 years ago. Untouched they were too, I expect. Like most I'm sure, I paid no attention to the returned film and simply looked at the prints in those days. They were all I really wanted, and that is why I was astonished that the negatives were still there. There was no selective reason why they should have been saved. Just benign neglect.
So here's a small sample. Taken on two days at Sussex University when I was a student there in the early part of 1980. One wet day, one dry.
I'd given these no mind at all for decades. But as I scanned them today, marveling at the preserved quality of the photographs (will we be so assured about our digital images 35 years hence?), I began to remember exactly why I took them. These were a record of the way the campus looked at that time, deliberately black and white as I wanted a feel from the photographs that emulated what I was feeling at the time. Scared, worried about the future, and drifting in and out of depression. Bleak, in other words.
Looking at them now, I don't get those strong negative emotions. I've come a long way, a very long way both in time and distance. Rather, I felt something of a thrill looking at these old pictures. They really aren't that bad as photos. Despite the fact I had no great aspiration at the time as a photographer. I can't even remember what camera I used, let alone the technical esoterica typical of the true enthusiast.
Ironically, these are examples of that strange unconscious artlessness that translates, paradoxically, into something both truly artistic and meaningful. At least for me. Something that I've been trying to recover over the past year or so. I can't say I've got there yet but I am closer. It is good to be reminded of what I was once able to do. I can do it again.
Photographs taken in the early months of 1980. Various campus buildings of Sussex University - will they still be the same today? I wonder.