BY: ERIC ZDANCEWICZ
Photography has become so accessible we have an app that instantly deletes photos after you send them. The tangibility of the art is still present, but not nearly as much as the digital is in everyday life. It’s no wonder why certain people prefer shooting on film. It requires you to be conscious of the composition, because every shot has a cost. Polaroid took most of the complexities out of photography in the ’60s, but kept the reward of analog and has continued to be relevant since then.
There is a quality to film that will never die, and this is proved in the Found Polaroids Project.
For several years Kyler Zeleny has been collecting thousands of polaroids of strangers. He recently launched a website dedicated to returning the photos of these people back into the hands of the family members or friends that knew them.
To date, he has collected over 6,000 polaroids of strangers.
Who were these people and why are their stories important? The unknown will always be alluring, but Kyler isn’t only looking for truth, he’s looking for fiction. The artist is asking photographers, writers and “felines of all forms” to join a community with an aim to create short stories based on the found images.
What is the importance of pairing a story, real or fictional, with the images you have collected?
Photographs taken in times that have long since passed often have this eerie way of taking us not only to a different time period but also of giving us an intimate view into the lives of complete strangers. That’s what makes these photographs especially unique – most are candid and are captured by someone who had a personal relationship with the subject. In that sense, each comes coupled with a story that can really only be told by the subject and the person taking the photograph, but these stories have been lost – at least to us. Originally we were fixated on knowing the true stories, and then slowly, it dawned on us that the importance of stories is not always in their actual truth, but rather in the truth that we can glean in our own lives from the stories we are told. A really great story is simply a story that holds up a mirror to our own truth or reality. Asking people to submit stories to us is essentially our way of asking them to breathe new life into moments that might otherwise have been forgotten, sitting in a closet in Alberta.
Do you believe that our reliance on digital storage leaves us more or less vulnerable to losing images of our past?
That’s a tough question, because there are obvious advantages to the digitization of photography. The most obvious is that we can access any photo that we want within seconds. We carry a wallet full of pictures of loved ones now simply by carrying our smart phones around. We are able to share pictures with speed and ease, while still retaining the original copies. All of these things make it tempting to say that this issues our photographs with unparalleled longevity. Even with the risk of a hard drive crashing, most people know to back up their electronic photos elsewhere.
Alternatively, physical possession of an image leaves the user vulnerable to the loss or damage of the photo in an accident or over time. So to answer your question, we believe that if you really intend to hold on to images, it’s wise to have them stored both digitally (in more than one place) and to have print copies of them.
With that said, however, there is most certainly something to be said about the texture and other tactile feelings that we lose in having our images stored electronically. Although you cannot necessarily tell based on the scanned polaroids, many have unique textures, marks and folds which unquestionably add to the sensory experience that we glean when looking at images of the past. The main thing made vulnerable by the prevalence of digital storage is the ethereal feeling that we get when we’re holding an image that countless unknown hands have held before in any number of different places around the world. The physical copy comes with a certain life and personal heritage that digital photos will sadly never manage to compensate for.
You are encouraging creatives to provide short stories for any of the polaroids on your website, and you have returned one photo to its owner to date. From what you’ve read so far, is truth stranger than fiction? Is there a relationship between the two?
The interesting thing about the stories that we’ve received to this point is that no two have been even remotely similar. They’re written with different narrative styles and tell vastly different stories. However the one thing that each has in common is that they tell a very personal, almost always commonplace story. The stories aren’t of city mayors or super heroes or movie stars. They’re stories that we hear every day about brothers, mothers, fathers, sisters, friends, wives, husbands, granddads and grandmas. In this sense, it’s very possible that some of the truths behind these images may indeed be stranger than fiction.
To answer the second part of your question, there is most certainly an element of truth in all fiction. When you sit down to tell a story about an image, as our writers have done, you recognize things that, somewhere in your subconscious, trigger a truth that you’re holding on to. Most of the stories we tell are true; they’ve just been jumbled and freshly retold by our colourful imaginations.
All questions were answered by Kyler and Jenny.
Check out the project here.