The cultural draw of Polaroids is straightforward. Their physicality is intrinsic and is something we’ve come to romanticize in our era of digitized ownership. Polaroids are frank and unembellished, and in this case, they were taken in times that have long since passed so they often have an eerie way of taking us not only into a different time period but also into the intimate lives of complete strangers.
Found Polaroids is a project that has grown from a collection of over 6000 Polaroid images that span time and space. In some instances, we have reasons to believe that the subjects know one another – but others are single images from dissimilar settings and unknown origins. The images are in equal parts heartbreaking and memorizing. Like slowing down to gape at a car accident, our curiosity and fetish to look outweighs our propriety. In order for found images to take meaning, we must look. Collecting is a journey, not a destination. Re-writing the experiences of these individuals is a collective endeavor done with respect for the universal human desire not to be forgotten. We will not forget you. As the photographer Diane Arbus once wrote, images “are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away, but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you”.
We decided that instead of keeping the images stored in shoeboxes in rural Canada that they should be shared with the world. The concept behind the project, which has culminated in an online repository, is to breathe new life into these long-forgotten images by asking creative minds to write stories about them. The project has grown from a simple request for 250-350 word flash fiction submissions into a multifaceted collaboration with photographers, writers, and other artists who also feel that found and vernacular photography should play a role in the collective memories of our society. Often, the project acts as a site of exchange where we can collectively interrogate our interactions with physical images and what that means in a digital world.
What makes this collection so unique is that most are entirely candid and were captured through the lens of personal relationships. In that sense, each comes coupled with a story that can really only be told by those in front of or behind the camera – but these stories have been lost. Initially, we were fixated on knowing the true stories, and then slowly it dawned on us that the importance of stories is not always in their actual truth, but rather in the truth that we can find reflected in our own lives. A really great story is simply one that holds a mirror up to our present reality. Perhaps we should be thinking of the Polaroids as “A box of unwritten letters.” Will you join in?
While this website is primarily meant to bring together an online community of writers, photographers, artists, and felines of all forms, our intent is to share the images and their corresponding stories as widely as possible across different mediums.
So where are your stories going? Initially, the stories will be shared on our website and through our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr). Once an engaging and diverse collection of stories has accumulated, a selection of the submitted stories will be curated into a book to be published in 2017/18.
Following the release of the print publication, our attention will be focused on turning Found Polaroids into a travelling multi-media exhibition.
*If chosen for future publication Found Polaroids reserves the right to make minor changes and alterations to submitted stories. Contributors will be contacted if their story is selected and notified about any planned modifications.