Is it madness that grabs me and whispers to me to do all this?
It doesn’t feel like madness, it feels like love to me, but then how could I possibly know what madness even feels like – or love for that matter – if I am as stark raving mad as they all say I am?
Do you think I’m mad? You’d tell me, wouldn’t you? Not that it really matters though, whatever it is that compels me – whether it be internal and psychological or external and objective – I let it take over; I let it soothe and cradle me. To be perfectly honest, I don’t want it to ever stop. I am kind of depending on it in many ways too – whatever it actually is. I honestly hope it never leaves me and, I won’t lie, Sam, I have a sneaky suspicion that it never will.
Since our last exchange, I’ve managed to find some real beauties. Do you remember the collage I was making and how I was just waiting to find the last couple of shots? Well, I eventually found them, and the project looks great – I’ll send you a picture of it once I get the film developed. But there’s more stuff that’s been going on too, exciting photographic stuff as well as more, let’s say, romantic things too (I wouldn’t want to jump the gun here – we’ll get there, we’ll get there!). So, photography-wise, I just recently picked up a new batch! It is a lovely little box – filled to the brim with photos of previous things, lost things, and strangers’ distant feelings; some old faded brown ones, black and white gems, and some brightly coloured prints as well – all of them are quite beautiful and I look forward to getting to know them better and working with them a little later. For now, I am content to just let them lie and await the selection process that I decide on when the time is right, or, rather, when the time feels right more like – as you always tell me; and, of course, even if there’s never any guarantee that it will ever feel right, I prefer to be patient and have faith in that quite splendid and quite mysterious of processes.
Anyway, I have plenty of other things to do too right now, so I just can’t say when that’ll be – might be tomorrow, maybe next week sometime. I am fully aware of the fact that there’s even a chance that I won’t use any of them from this batch – which is not a crime at all, but in many ways does feel like it is – and I may have to set my sights on the next batch I hopefully come across. It isn’t really up to me, Sam, and it all depends on if they jump out at me and start speaking to my mind and telling me their secrets and all those wonderful forgotten stories. Are you sure you don’t think I’m a little mad? Well, as you also always point out to me: who isn’t a little touched by madness nowadays? Besides, I won’t lie, I’m too tired to do it today, and your letter is my priority at the moment; and like I said, I have a lot of other things to be getting on with at the moment, so the world will just have to be patient. Anyway, there’s plenty of time for stories, right? Just think how long this box has been waiting to be found and to then be able to tell its story – must’ve been a fair while, I’d say.
Some friends over here call all these photos I hoard just a waste of time, or they say I am basically a second-hand rubbish collector gathering the tatty forgotten remnants of past lives that no longer mean anything to anyone. They are wrong of course. Some like to point out that the very reason why these photos have been abandoned so unceremoniously in these filthy second-hand shops in the first place, is exactly that: they no longer mean anything anymore. And once again, they are wrong.
Where these photos might have been is, for me anyway, one of the most exciting things about them: these photos are ripe with prior meanings, meanings that are just waiting to be plucked and harvested into glorious, sumptuous stories; meanings that bubble and fizz just under the surface waiting to be freed by me – or by anyone really – but especially me.
Sam, I get meanings shout out to me in my dreams, when I’m on the toilet, or when I’m walking down a shopping aisle – it’s a pleasant and very stimulating game for me. I like the way some meanings often take their time to show themselves; it’s almost like they are testing me, waiting to see if I am worthy of or ready for their tales and it is a good job that I am patient with them – perhaps that’s just another reason why they appear to me in the first place. Don’t you think? Perhaps they dislike being rushed, might not be their style, or maybe they just accept my presence and my ways as if I were the actual story that they are working out and not the other around at all, I really don’t know. I feel all alone with this “silly obsession” of mine, and perhaps those friends are right, maybe you do have to be a little mad to do it – and if that means I am mad, then so be it; I’m definitely not going to give it up now, not after so long, not after all this time – giving up feels like it would be a kind of pitiful madness in itself, you know? I mean, how much madness can one person possess anyway before it properly drives them mad, I wonder? Of course, they don’t always reveal themselves to me and there is many a time when I feel nothing from the photograph at all – it says nothing to me, only silently observing me it would seem. Time and time again, I ask myself if it is because I am not tuned into the meanings it is giving off – I simply don’t understand what it is saying to me, or that I am simply not focused enough to pick up the message and meanings. I feel a little like that today really.
Thinking about these friends who doubt my sanity and who question my reasons for this so-called mania of mine, I don’t think they misunderstand my intellectual justifications for collecting and conserving these photographs. However, I do think it is more a question of their own fears of the past, their regrets and skeletons in closets that is most likely the cause of their criticism and scepticism in what I am doing. Don’t you think it could be that?
Or maybe they are simply jealous of the stories I seem to so miraculously produce and that I seemingly and effortlessly extract from all these frozen moments I come across. Is that what motivates them at the end of the day to be so unsupportive of my earnest endeavours? Why would the desire to simply want to tell or rather, retell stories be viewed as weird? I mean, who’s really mad here anyway, Sam? Me for my enthusiasm or them for their lack of it? There are – without a shadow of a doubt – many more important things to be concerned about than storytelling and I’m sure the universe doesn’t care in the slightest about such things – but I do, I feel I have to, like it’s my calling or something. Do you feel a calling, Sam? Didn’t you love painting for years? Does that still do it for you? I still think you should join me on one of these outings the next time we meet up – I think you’d love it. At least I might not feel so alone. You’d do that for me, wouldn’t you? Humour me even?
Sam, two weeks ago, I met a man named Lee in one of the many second-hand charity shops I love to rummage around in. Don’t think of me as a blushing schoolgirl or anything, but I did feel something between us straight away, exciting news, right? Our eyes met as we both flicked through some postcards in a large box filled with all sorts of odds and sods. He was tall, dishevelled yet handsome and his voice was sincere as he asked me if I were looking for anything in particular. I replied both yes and no in my mysterious and cheeky way you love. Please don’t tell me off again for always flirting and always playing hard to get – it’s in my nature! He nodded and said that he was looking for something a little more specific and – seeing my eyes light up with curiosity – he went on to tell me about his project to collect vintage photographic slides from the 50s through to the 80s, I think he said, although it may have been later. Can you believe it, Sam? Someone like me! Someone with the exact same passion! I was naturally captivated by his project (and not just the fact that he was cute, Sam!) and went on to tell him about my own love of forgotten photos and my need to retell or invent the stories contained within them. He seemed genuinely interested and not once had the condescending scowl that many of my friends have when they hear me go on about all this; there was undoubtedly a lovely connection between us, and we have kept in touch since then, but I don’t think they’ll be anything above and beyond a good friendship. Although, I don’t think I’m against the idea of it becoming something else. What do you think I should do? Should I go for it? When will I ever meet someone like that who loves the same things as I do? And is that really a valid reason for loving someone? I’m not sure it is.
I love some of his expressions when talking about his passion where he defines it as not just collecting old Kodachrome, Agfachrome or Fujicolor slides for the sake of it, but that he is a collector of emotions, a hoarder of collected memory. Isn’t that uncanny? Just like me – he finds an emotional connection with these prints and images. He likens each slide – which he lovingly handles with reverence – to a miniature painting: precious and unique – something to be admired and that will never be created again in exactly that same way – and, of course, he is absolutely right. I guess we may not be telling stories in exactly the same way, but, still, we are both creating stories in the head of the reader, in each and every viewer. Think about it, Sam: if 100 people see that photo, then there are a hundred new and diverse stories being created, you see what I mean? Nothing makes me – us – happier than that thought, that’s for sure. You know, he’s gone on to create a website and publish a wonderful book containing some of the best slides he and his colleague Emmanuelle have chosen from the hundreds of thousands of slides they pick up every year; a truly amazing project that they have named The Anonymous Society, or The Anonymous Slide Project – something like that, the correct term slips my mind for some reason. I really must be quite tired today, Sam.
All that is left for me to do now is to take a little nap; I can sort through those photos tomorrow. I am sure the stories can wait a little longer; although, in fairness, considering how long they might have already been couped up in a cupboard somewhere or discarded in a loft, perhaps I am pushing my luck with them. What happens if they take my tiredness for disinterest and then refuse to reveal themselves to me? Gosh, Sam, I’d never thought of that before! Maybe that is why they have sometimes taken so long to open up in the past, and it has nothing to do with my own ability or receptiveness in receiving their stories. Whatever it is, I’m just not feeling it today and I am sure they won’t mind if I just sleep on it, will they? What would you do in my shoes? This evening sky has the most unusual colour tonight – perhaps that is what is affecting me, making it difficult for me to focus on the stories right now. Does that just sound like a very weak excuse? It does, doesn’t it? Still, I might even take a look later tonight, or, perhaps better still, tomorrow morning now I come to think about it. I’ve got the box right next to the sofa, right here, so let me just rest for a while, just for a minute or two.
I’ll call you soon, Sam, keep well and forgive my obsessive ranting as ever.
All my love, your silly old friend.