On my archive
I am untidy, always have been. But I try to protect my negatives carefully. On the translucent sheets of paper which contain them, I trace the masks I used when I printed them. I mark out the areas of the image and add notes on how to treat it: “remember to screen the shadow in the foreground, add a dash of light to the sky”… The negatives have to be protected from dust and fire. Perhaps, they are the quintessence of my memories. What my eyes saw or, at least, thought they saw. What they will never see again.
I hardly ever make contact prints. It bores me to print them, and I prefer to imagine the light through the negatives. I left aside certain photos a long time before printing them, content to decipher them in transparent form.
When it comes to prints, I am more attached to the boxes of rejects, rather than the presentation portfolio, in its antacid container with the photos perfectly flat and carefully retouched. Those discarded pieces of paper, at bottom, are coated with the silver of so many illusions; ideas I conceived, tried to defend and then mislaid. Trials and errors. They are stashed in Agfa or Ilford boxes, with the name of the place and year written with a felt pen. America 1981, India 1986, Maroccco 1995… For History, as Fernand Braudel said, you need two eyes: geography and chronology.
And then there are the souvenir photos, scattered here and there in little piles like the traces of Tom Thumb. A heart laid open to the disorder of memory. A world where the gaze of those we have loved reigns invincibly. The melting smiles of those who have been near to us. Photos taken years ago, in railway station photo booths, badly printed, the colours now faded. Photos of holidays and weddings. Photos with rivers, mountains and pyramids. The yard behind my home snapped from the living room window. All the time lived through up to yesterday, hidden away in a box.
Every day a photographer rummages in his past in the exercise of his profession. Like the leading actors of certain films condemned to act out their story “off the bastions of Orion”.
Resigned to an identity which consists only of memories, of “precious photos” destined to remain as the counter-proof that they really lived. Even if only as part of a lost family. Survivors obliged to face the future clinging to an image of their past.
Thus your archive tells you who you were, where you went, who were your fellow travellers. And it takes you to the frontier of another archive. To the immense collection of photos you never took, the deposit of those nostalgic memories for which there is no evidence. There among others I still retain the memory of my first clapped-out utility car, half-buried in the ditch, on a summer afternoon so many years ago …
text for Fotostorica, 1999