All that remains of my grandfather’s work—a lifetime of photographs—is inside a large book of contact sheets—images only about an inch wide each. Taken between the early 1940s and the late 1960s, they show family and friends, coworkers, and complete strangers, mostly in Illinios and Wisconsin.
I only met my grandfather once that I can remember, when I was ten years old. He was moving from London back to live in Arizona and stopped to sleep on my parents couch for a few weeks. Early each morning my grandfather and I would sit on the couch in the living room and watch cartoons together. It was the same couch I was sitting on, years later, when I found out he had died. I remember laughing nervously as I told my best friend; He was the first dead person I knew.
A year or so after he died, my mother received boxes and suitcases full of my grandfather’s belongings, among them this book of contact sheets. All of the negatives had been lost, damaged in a tragic basement flooding. Now all that remains of them is this small chunk of time, hazy reflections of lost and forgotten moments.
I sit here, decades later, and obsess over these images of a world that no longer exists, hoping to discover something about a man I never knew—a man described to me with cautious words and diplomatic phrases. I see all of this in his photographs, in the haunting gaze of people long gone. But mostly I see the remnants of a man who wanted to be something more.