Ron Cowie, Bill Vaccaro, Norm Diamond
– July 22, 2016
Reception: June 8th 7-9 PM
In early 2008, my wife Lisa Garner died suddenly leaving me with our 3 1/2 year old daughter. Lisa was always rather protective of her “stuff”. In short, I wasn’t allowed to touch any of it. After she died, I still had the same reservations. In 2009, I had reconnected with someone whom I knew would be sharing a life and future with. I was confronted by the real need to touch Lisa’s stuff.
I remember standing in the master closet, looking at Lisa’s side and saying out loud “I’m not trying to push you out but, I need to make room and; I don’t know how to do that. So, you tell me what I should do and I’ll do that.”
I heard Lisa’s clear voice in my head “Photograph my things in wet-plate and print them in platinum.”
The lesson is “careful what you put out there” because Lisa had a lot of stuff and wet-plate collodion is a fairly tedious process to do well. However, it was the perfect solution. She was often right about what was good for me.
During the spring and summer of 2009 I spent my days polishing glass, pouring collodion, and setting up items to photograph. The process of making a single image could, at times, take an entire day from set up to final varnishing. This time allowed me to interact with the items in front of my lens. I was actually talking to Lisa through my camera. It was a beautiful, creative collaboration with the woman who taught me to love and be patient. I would not have known how to proceed without her input. This project was her gift to me.
It was the summer of 1995 when my first wife suddenly died. Our adopted son was only 2-1/2 years old. While we eventually were able to achieve some sense of normalcy in our lives after years of grief and loss, it was never easy for him to deal with the feeling that, to use his own words, that he “was robbed.” Our son, now a young adult, remembers little about the person who he calls his “old mom.”
Several months after her death, I gathered together many of her favorite things and put them in an old storage chest donated by close friends. These included diaries, sketchbooks, favorite jewelry, photographs, things she sewed and knitted – even the very possessions she carried with her the day she died – so he could have something that truly belonged to her, even as he struggled to remember this now mysterious person who had loved him so dearly.
But how does one visually depict those fragments of memory that remain when someone so young loses a parent and all that’s left are her treasured possessions. I chose to combine the wet plate collodion process with alternative print processes to show what it might be like to see through the eyes of a child still struggling to recall a significant part of his past that’s been clouded forever by the relentlessness of time.
I became fascinated with estate sales over a year ago during my first visit. They have become a common way for people to dispose of their parents’ possessions after they die or move to assisted living. Now I go to numerous sales every week in Dallas, where I live. In addition to photographing at the sales themselves, I also buy items, usually spending less than $25. I then photograph them in my home studio with various lighting and backgrounds, which allows me to construct different interpretations.
Several themes have emerged from this work. The stark reality of life’s brevity pervades every estate sale, where children’s toys sit a few feet from wheelchairs. I search for unique personal possessions, which tell the often poignant stories of people I never knew and can only wonder about. When these items become subjects in photographs, they begin to take on a new life of their own. In addition, I also find knickknacks which offer fascinating visual commentaries on our culture and politics. Every weekend at just about every sale, I see sadness, irony, history, and humor.
Estate sales also evoke strong emotional connections to my past. I think of my parents and the treasured belongings they left for my sister and me. I reflect upon my mortality, the choices I have made, and the dreams I never pursued. And, I wonder what my estate sale will look like.