Kodachrome film had a certain poetry, a softness...
I'm paraphrasing the words of a famous photojournalist whose name I can't remember. For the past few months, I have been studying a series of photographs taken during the time my grandparents lived in the US in the early 50s. Most of them were taken (I think) on Kodachrome slide film. The images largely depict times of leisure, birthdays, a cross-country road-trip, etc - they are the very definition of a snapshots. Yet my grandfather was there in D.C. working with the government (back then the CIA and the Taiwanese government were working together on efforts to collect intelligence from Communist China). Knowing that somehow makes the photos all the more jarring. In a way, "History" took place outside of the frames of these snapshots. Here he is, smiling with his beautiful wife and young children. And If these photos were to somehow become animated, he would have walked out of the black frames that so neatly contain relatively mundane life of a family, and into settings with much heavier backdrops. This disparity has offered me a particularly sad framework for thinking about the visual representations of History and Memory, and about what isn't represented. What happened between the frames, pages, and records?
The Kodak ads in the 50s and 60s made a point to deliberately tap into the feelings of nostalgia. In an episode of Mad Men, Don Draper said of the carousel projector -
"This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine."
If there is a collective visualization of nostalgia, the palette of this image must be that of the kodachrome film. The ubiquitous smiling faces featured in the iconic American road-trip photo album are, in this case, replaced by the Chinese countenances of my family members. The unsettling feeling is manifold. For one, these photos have, in a way, made me ponder how and why notions and representations of authenticity are formed. They've prompted the questions of who produces nostalgia, and to what end? I wonder, too, between the clicks of the camera's shutter, did they encounter cruelty in a still-segregated America? Did my grandmother, a young mother whose husband was probably not home often, feel a great deal of loneliness? If so, can I look closely enough, hard enough to see it on their faces?