The three lives of a photograph

My Mother, Bridie, in Ireland, in about 1960
My Mother, Bridie, was born in rural County Kilkenny at the end of the twenties. I think this photograph was taken there by my Dad in about 1960, after they were married and on a visit home. So that’s how this photograph’s first life got started, presumably in a little Kodak camera of some sort, in the middle of Ireland.

Dad gave me the photograph, or at least a smaller, more dog-eared version of it, about twenty years ago when I was studying photography at what was then The Polytechnic of Central London. PCL was the first Polytechnic in Britain and had a long history of independence and innovation. Now, of course, it’s called The University of Westminster and it’s just like all the others. I wonder if it’s occurred to anyone to try reversing one of these anonymous ‘Unis’ back into a retro Polytechnic brand? I wonder if they’d be allowed to?).

I started the photograph’s second life when I re-photographed it on a huge, cast iron copy stand at the Polytechnic (using black & white film – probably Pan-F) then developed the film and printed the neg in the college’s amazing darkrooms. I took those darkrooms for granted but they were something special – three or four thousand square feet of red-stained darkness five or six floors above a narrow West End street. There was something relaxing about hours spent in the quiet darkness – the only noise I remember was the tinny sound of the complete soundtrack from Taxi Driver (including the dialogue) coming from Paul‘s darkroom next door.

I’d love to go back for an hour or two. Except, of course, they’re not there any more. They’ve been moved from their groovy West End location to an end-of-the-Piccadilly-Line suburb not far from where I live now (the idea of all those ungrateful, spotty youths mooning around in the dark in all that priceless West End Real Estate must have got to those pioneering, Thatcher-era educrats).

Anyway, once I’d made some prints, I retouched the pic using some inks and a sable brush I bought from the shop in the photography department. Got rid of all the creases and scratches. I regret that now. I’d have left the blemishes alone if I was copying it now.

The cleaned-up copy has hung on various walls in my life for over twenty years now without ever encountering a computer, until last week when I finally scanned it. And now it’s on, living out its third life in the digital realm. I wonder if there’ll be more lives?

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1 comment

  1. Goodness – I remember that photo. I remember you getting that sable brush and I also remember the calm of the fifth and sixth floors of PCL. Do you remember John in the white coat that used to dish out loads of paper for us to print on. I think we were only allowed a certain amount but somehow I always managed to scam more. Maybe it was the developer fumes that we were all so calm and high on. I loved it there.

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