Ryan Van Der Hout » Blog

Memories, 2007-2008

In 2006, my cousin came to me with a set of slides she had found while cleaning out her parent’s basement. The slides had gone through radical changes in the time they had been in the box. Most probably subject to a flood at one point, many of them had begun to disintegrate. The very fabric of the slides had been compromised, in some cases leaving nothing but abstract traces where images had once been.

At first I did not know what to do with these slides; they could not be digitally scanned as they were heavily buckled from the moisture, and I could not print them in a traditional way as Cibachrome darkrooms have become increasingly difficult to find. So I set the slides aside for nearly a year. In the course of that year I had three brushes with death: one in a fire, the second by a mugger who claimed he would kill me, and the third in a gunfight on the street where I had been shooting a film seconds earlier. These experiences shook me to my core. I was in a constant state of fear that death would be around the next corner.

Subsequent to these events, the focus of my art shifted; I became obsessed with death. Under this influence, I began using the illusionary method of vanitas to express the idea of death symbolically. In the series that would follow, I shadowed my own fear of death with the concept of the death of the darkroom. This was a guise that I myself could not see through. It was in this light that I picked up the decrepit slides again. I instantly saw what I was seeking – the abstract faces and places not only foreshadowed the death of the darkroom, but were a reminder that I existed in a lineage. Sitting in the void of the darkroom and staring at my deceased relatives, I began to see myself in their faces, their actions, and their relations. Perhaps this was the meditation I needed in order to come to grips with my own mortality.

I could not help but come back to these slides. I continually felt as though I had missed something the first time, so again and again I would go through the hundreds of slides that I had chosen from, trying to find new meaning in them. Eventually I realized that the slides themselves would tell me nothing more, rather, it was a question of changing the way I looked at them. I began projecting them onto screens, to be viewed as originally intended. It was through this process that I was able to step back and see them for what they were: these vernacular images were not prophesies but merely traces of memory left by my ancestors to me.