Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Every picture tells a story

review of Luna cornata by Elvira Valgañón

Sobrelamesa Ediciones 2007

I discovered this charming little book in an Oxfam shop. It is about two people dreaming up stories inspired by old photos they get from an antiquarian bookshop in Dublin. These days, as the traditional, chemical process of making photos via negatives is disappearing rapidly, it is especially poignant to immerse oneself in the time when monochrome photos were at the cutting edge of technology, and having your family portraits taken at the local photographer’s studio was an obligatory status symbol.

Making up life stories for the people portrayed in such photos opens a window into the social history of Dublin in the early 20th century, and, via migration, also to other parts of Europe. A certain distance is provided by the fact that the storytellers are foreigners in Dublin (she a photographer from Spain, he a visiting professor), looking at the Irish way of life with a degree of naïve admiration.

After reading this book, I noticed that there are in fact lots of old family portraits for sale on our local antiques market. Isn’t it a shame that these have become dissociated from the stories that led to their creation and those that may have followed it? Making up stories is fun, and in this case makes for an inspiring read. Did the author really buy these photos in Dublin, or did she invent them, I wonder.

However, it would be even better if such photos could be re-attached to their real-life stories. For every old photo ending up in a car boot sale, there may be a genealogist who has the matching story and who would be overjoyed to find the photos to go with it. (see for instance, the story of our Winderlich photos)

But I’m digressing. Nice little book. Wonder what the author did next.

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