Artist’s Statement by Lawrence Merin
Mom grew up in Wardsville. That’s her, front row, far right. Annie Lutchin, posing with her three brothers, two sisters, two pups and parents, squinting into the sun as some now-unknown Kodak-holding acquaintance counted 1-2-3 or perhaps urged the family to “Say Cheese!”
The film was sent to the Big City for processing, and then the photograph was pasted into an album. Back
then, pictures were valuable things. Out of focus? Too light? Too dark? If it was recognizable, it was kept, pasted in an album or placed in a shoebox, to be pulled out on a lazy Sunday afternoon to help a mood for reminiscing.
By the way, that’s me at the left of this photo, with my little sister Elaine, smiling for the camera while Grandpa, Grandma and Auntie Sarah remember times gone by while looking through old family snapshots.
Mom passed away in 2009. While packing up her things, we found a shoebox filled with old photographs. Most were not labeled. Who were these people? Were they family members? From Dad’s side of the family or Mom’s? Could they have been friends? Neighbors? There is no one left to ask. The images are fascinating… but as a legacy, they are terribly incomplete.
But at least they were in a shoebox, where we could touch them, look at them and ponder their significance to our family’s history. Today, when amateur cameras can be used to produce technically fine images (Perfect colors! Sharp focus! Great exposure! So simple anyone can take a great picture!), the value placed on photographs as historical artifacts has diminished. The cost of digital cameras has dropped; memory chips
permit hundreds of photos to be made without the cost of film and processing; images can be transmitted around the world with the push of a button – but of the millions of images made every day, how many are labeled, archived or even looked at again?
* * * * *
My ancestral home, this little one-stoplight village on Highway 2, provided a welcoming, nurturing environment for my immigrant grandparents and their young family, and I always felt that I owed them a debt of gratitude. Thus, when I learned that a Bicentennial Celebration was being planned, I thought that this might present an opportunity to thank the village for its kindness by photographing most, if not all, Wardsvillians during the celebration.
I chose to use black and white film and a vintage Hasselblad camera for the portraits, since archivally processed film can be safely stored for decades without deterioration. The project was designed from the outset to provide the people of Wardsville with an archival ‘shoebox’ where images and names would be matched, in a single place and in a form that could be seen easily in the future. Archived in Elgin County facilities, the Legacy negatives should remain in pristine condition for many years. Hopefully, they can be reviewed and printed anew in 2110.
Over the course of two days, 261 people posed in 52 groupings in a temporary studio set up in the pavilion of the Wardsville baseball park. A team of “wranglers” provided logistical support as folks signed in and queued up for the sittings. David Chidley, an accomplished local photographer, provided invaluable on-site counsel, equipment support and photographed each group using a digital camera. Rhaelyn Vereecken set up a digital printer in the ‘studio’ and every group received a high-quality color print on the spot.
Folks generally grouped themselves for the sittings; most were couples and families. We also photographed people linked by work (the Wardsville Volunteer Fire Department) and by hobbies (barbershop singers, ballroom dancers, barn quilt painters, a brass band). It was a special honor to photograph a group of War Brides.
There was no 1-2-3 and no “Say Cheese.” Rather, I reminded each group that the purpose of the photography session was to produce a historical record. I asked them to look into the camera and imagine that their expression and pose would be the way future generations would come to know them. Some responded with smiles, while others were pensive. Some adopted formal poses while others were quite spontaneous. The photographs we produced reveal the people of Wardsville the way they see themselves and wish others to see them: straightforward, friendly, proud of their village and comfortable with their way of life.
I am grateful to all who presented themselves to my camera and allowed me to record their names and faces for coming generations.