Musings over a film scanner: New York 1979-83
Is it self-indulgent or even healthy to pass whole days, even weeks lingering in the past ? It is a strange and somewhat solipsistic business spending much of my working days here in rural south-west France conducting a forensic examination of my own history. But this is what I do: for 35 years or more I have recorded the world around me and at some point these recordings have to be replayed, re-assessed or, in the case of the tens of thousands of negatives and transparencies that surround me, they have to be exhumed, catalogued, scanned, researched, captioned and key-worded, in short given a new life, otherwise the whole point of doing them is forever lost. You might think that all this should have been done long ago, but the archiving I have done so far has just skimmed the surface, the process takes a long time and all the while a majority of my working time has hitherto been spent creating yet more images.
The act of digitizing the images is like peering through the camera all over again but the viewfinder has become that of an antique device and the world that I framed is no longer there, it has altered fundamentally just as I too have changed. I often remember the most minute details of the circumstances surrounding the making of the image while paradoxically forgetting some of the crucial details, like where exactly I was at the time, hence the urgency to get on with the task in hand before my caption information becomes a work of pure fiction ! Self-obsessed or not it has now become an engaging past-time, necessary for the releasing of the images from their long captivity in filing cabinets but also informative in helping me confront my own personal history.
New York has a particular resonance for me. Arriving as a 16 year old, fresh-faced from an English boarding school in late 1967 I was confronted by what seemed to be a forbidding city as well as a totally alien but day-glow vibrant alternative culture. The brighter side was literally dazzling, the darker side was more than menacing: the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and, more immediately for me, the death of my mother on a Manhattan street – all within the first few months – did not initially make me feel at ease in my new home. I grew up with a jolt, but at that time I also picked up a decent 35mm camera then and my lifelong commitment to photography began. In pursuing this interest I began to feel at home in my newly adopted town and the rich tapestry of its streets.
More images of New York can be found at my new archive site: www.heseltinearchive.com
More images can be found at my archive site: www.heseltinearchive.com