Book Shorts

Book of discarded family pictures reminds us of our mortality

Personal collection of anonymous photographs made from Kodachrome slides shows the transience of our lives

Anonymous family photograph (n/d) © Collection of Michael Collins

Michael Collins acknowledges his debt to Proust in his account of the potency of old family Kodachrome colour slides. Looking at slides taken of his young father when Collins was years older than his father had been when photographed, the viewing opened for him not only the usual treasury of cherished memories of his nearest and dearest, but also a fertile bank of imaginative speculations about what was going on with the grown-ups when the viewer was preoccupied with the experiences of childhood.

As a result of this observation, Collins was inspired to amass some 25,000 Kodachrome slides dating from the late 1950s to the early 1970s which he found mostly in second-hand and junk shops. This book presents his selection of some 40 photographs—family and individual portraits, much loved cats (but hardly a dog in sight), gardens, flowers, cars and babies. All the men and boys wear ties and the women dresses (no such thing as “slacks”). Here are innocent, sincere depictions, devoid of any Martin Parr-like irony, pregnant with narrative possibilities. Collins has also included out a few landscapes, banal but evidently beloved holiday scenes.

What makes the collection remarkable is the complete anonymity of both the picture makers and their subjects—people, events and places now lost to memory. The experience of looking at the pictures is not dissimilar to cemetery visits—mementos of our mortality and, most of all, the realisation of the ultimate insignificance of our own lives after a couple of generations.

  • Michael Collins, The Family Silver, Lecturis, 100pp, €20 (hb)