Paul Melcher's selection
We live on the shores of history. Once in a while, elements of the past come back to us as waves, splashing about everywhere, only to retreat quietly and fuse into the sea of things already known. Such a wave hit us last week. With the release of more than 300,000 historical images (800,000 digital content if you include videos, sounds, maps) from the Municipal Archives of the city of New York. A carefully scanned and indexed collection of photographs depicting the empire city from the late 19th century to the 1970's has just been made available online for the pleasure of professional and amateurs worldwide. One can now peruse leisurely from their desk or couches at the wonders of how it used to be. While most certainly not abounding with photographic masterpiece reminiscent of Abbot or Ronis, they still narrate and tell of the city that used to be. Those images were taken mostly for administrative reasons, like collecting taxes. Art, or aesthetics was not really a requirement. With a city like New York, where buildings are replaced faster than passing clouds and where neighborhoods change at the speed of immigrations, it is almost like discovering a foreign country. It seems that life was so much easier and pleasant, even if it might not be so true. Nevertheless, we tend to navigate those images as if , somehow, they reminded us of a paradise lost, even if we didn't live it. What happens then when we mix the present with the past ? That is what russian photo enthusiast Sergey Larenkov dared to investigate. His inspiration, the Russian State Documentary Film & Photo Archive, Krasnogorsk. He took images from the archive and merged them with photographs taken in the present. The result is stunning. Mixing ,mostly photographs from the second word war with its contemporary location, he manages to brings to light how life goes on, even after the most dramatic event. It seems, by looking at his images, that we are haunted by the past. While the contrast of events depicted is brutal, peace and war mingled, the result is eerily familiar because of the perfect blending of the environment. We are reminded how quickly we forget, how we move on with such ease, and how, regardless of the damages we return to a state of inconsequential business. Both collection, one by its sheer volume and depth, the other, by its powerful message, remind us how we are locked with our past.