Spring, Mother’s Day, Easter, a season of renewal, creation, birth. I suppose I couldn’t hope for a more appropriate time to launch a new blog although, as my family will testify, it has certainly spent a good while in gestation.
By whatever means you have found your way here, welcome, as you’ll be among the first and no doubt wondering “What’s this all about? What is The Candid Eye? And what’s with the books?” Well, you can find a bit of background in the About section so I am going to cut straight to the books as these are the inspiration behind this blog and at the heart of what I do, so a good place to start this ball rolling.
The picture shows a selection of our family photograph albums at my mother’s home. They contain an unbroken photographic documentary that starts with my parents’ engagement in the South of France in 1958. I emerge as a fat and happy baby a couple of volumes in and my brother shortly after. Friends, cousins, uncles and aunts, grandparents, the Greek taverna owner and his family, the Padstow harbour master, assorted au pairs and other characters all come and go through the pages, many reappearing with the regularity of a summer holiday or other seasonal get-together. The same is true of places: Cornwall, the South of France, Corfu, favourite spots revisited and each time, like us, a little bit changed year on year. My father’s meticulous and humourous captioning continues to bring it all to life: “These are the ------s, their daughter felt sick on the bus and we gave them a plastic bag but nobody saw it had a big hole in it.” Inevitably some people, my father included, dropped out of this storyboard forever, their places gradually taken by new faces, those of our own children.
How did this archive take form? I don’t remember my father being hugely into photography, not in the sense that I later became. There was a seldom used 8mm cine camera knocking about and I do very much recall his twin lens reflex camera, not a Rolleiflex but similar and, later, a Pentax with just a standard lens. I got a Kodak Instamatic 126 when I was around nine and my mother had a smart 110-format pocket camera, which I coveted despite it being one of the worst film formats ever to come to market. You could always tell which photos she had taken because the camera strap appeared in them. I think possibly the albums came about as a token of thankfulness for surviving the war but mainly as a record of the happy times that were a legacy of his work. It seemed a natural middle class thing to do.
My own interest in photography came not through a camera but from these photographs. The photographs were there first, a living story. For me the printing, editing, cropping, sticking, captioning were as integral to the process and art of photography as the capturing itself. It turned out to be a great way to learn about picture taking as we always placed so much more value on the caught moment and the context of story - which remains the pretext behind my photography to this day.
And so, what future for the albums? Even as a photographer, I am conscious that I am failing to maintain the same level of fastidiousness as my parents in documenting my family. The conversations I have on the subject suggest there is a looming crisis for the kind of family archive many of us have either inherited or started with good intentions years back, only to stall. Digital technology has resulted in a proliferation of photographs, but how many of them will our children be able to pick up? Are our little social documentaries being overwhelmed when it's now so much easier to deal with images in bulk rather than through selection? And what of the ramifications of keeping it all online rather than in a book or frame? Are we even getting pictures worth keeping in the first place?
I'm not entirely sure where this journey will lead but my ambition over the coming months is to take a look at some of these issues and hopefully to share ideas so that we can get the best out of our personal and family photography, both for present and, just as importantly, future enjoyment. And it doesn't have to involve scissors and glue anymore.