Paris / Versailles, France (1975).
My grandmother’s funeral was last week. She was the most selfless person I knew. Sadly, she had completely lost her self before she went, but she was an old woman. I’m scanning her old albums. My grandmother didn’t take pictures, but my grandfather did. He died before I was born, so these photos are something of a treasure to me. There are not many photographs of my grandfather himself, but as a photographer, seeing the photos he made is in some ways more enlightening. The family album is a largely superficial genre, designed more to showcase than to picture or describe. In a way, it says more about the person who made it than about the people in the pictures. The characters in the photographs—because that’s what they are, for the most part, roles being played out by actors—must pose the way convention dictates. The photographer, however, is more free to reveal something of himself.
I have my personal Vivian Maier, then: a person known mostly through what they saw, rather than how others saw them. Among the amateur snapshots are some photographs that approach the artistic, landscapes where the forms arrange themselves elegantly, and I can’t imagine how I’d do it better. Some are from France, which my grandparents visited twice, a luxury they would have never afforded themselves if not for the fact that my uncle lived there (he, also, dead before I was born).
There exists a photograph of my grandfather, perhaps about as old as I am now, flanked by seven women. He was the only man working at a hair salon for several years. There is also a newspaper clipping from the early 1950s, showing a slightly older, greasier version of my grandfather as he has just become a certified diesel mechanic working at a railyard. Perhaps he’s more Mike Brodie than Vivian Maier?
In the albums, between half-blurred shots of family, there are testaments to creativity: a picture of a model boat he built for my uncle (a boat now in my father’s possession), next to a shot of the real boat; proud landscapes showing off the natural beauty of the landscapes he lived in.
It’s such an odd thing, to see an entire life (or two, rather) in a few hundred photographs.