Barbara Baker talks to us about her photographic curatorial project looking at the lost memories of a life through discarded artefacts and slides found in a suitcase.
Tell us about your project ‘Memories from a Suitcase’. What is it about and how did you come to do it?
The negatives used in the project originally belonged to Sunderland man Fred Bewick, they were found in a suitcase that was left outside near the entrance of a Church. A former member of the local historical group who no longer had the space to store it and so it was being thrown away. Inside were slides, a small metal slide projector, old lenses, filters and other small photography accessories.
All these memories but no-one wanted the slides.
I believe passionately that memories (in whatever context) are the most precious and fundamental ingredient that makes each one of us who we are. There are too many discarded or hidden images that will never see the light of day again, like little pieces of jigsaws floating around in a different dimension. This glimpse into the memories of another person’s life fascinated me.
I also felt saddened that none of his images seemed to be of value to other people, especially his family. It almost felt as if his life no longer had value. A visual display about how we fade from the memory of people whose lives we touch.
What attracted you to this project and how does it differ from your previous work?
This project differed immensely! I’ve always generally enjoyed shooting my own travel photography (around various countries, including Europe and Asia), to capture my own images. ‘Memories from a suitcase’ became more intriguing once I realized, Fred’s images mostly documented his own travels, from the early 60’s onwards. So in essence I felt compelled to act as a ‘curator’ of his work, showing them on his behalf. It’s something I’d not done before but enjoyed the challenge of trying something completely different and out of my comfort zone. As I didn’t initially have any details about Fred’s life, I had to try make informed decisions when choosing various images to display. In ‘doubling’ up some of his images, this became an additional feature of his work also. The thing with negatives of this nature though is, there are many other areas I can explore and expand them, with a view other projects branching off Fred’s initial images.
Why did you chose to layer the images?
The layering came about from accidentally sorting various slides out onto a large light box. As I was going through hundreds of negatives trying to pick the best for inclusion, the ‘possible inclusion’ pile started to show multiple images shining through with the light drawing me in. It looked more three dimensional and more interesting, just like real lives are. Call it a happy accident.
What is you favourite and least favourite aspect of the project?
My favourite thing was seeing images printed out and put into frames for the exhibition. The least favourite (& still is to a point) is how time consuming scanning & editing was. However, I know there are so many other new routes to explore as the project continues.
You mentioned that you’ve exhibited the project. What challenges did you face putting the exhibition together as this was a very curatorial project?
Worst challenge was the limited amount of space I had and being limited on how themed I could make the space. I wanted it to reflect a room or even study based around the 70’s plus… as if Fred had used it as a study or lounge. I would have liked an armchair, standard light, donated carpet, and Fred’ s old slide projector (for people to operate themselves). Unfortunately this simply wasn’t possible given restraints such as health and safety within the venue.
It also wasn’t possible to include any of Fred’s artefacts such as the old lenses. It was hard knowing what to do for the best, as I wanted to stay true to Fred and the little history I had of him.
What is your connection to the North East of England?
I was born and bred in the mining village of Pegswood (near Morpeth). Actually born in one of the small terraced pit house. Daughter of two Polish Parents who settled there after the war. Northumberland and it’s countryside was my playground. Am a ‘true Polish geordie’. Brought up around the north east culture and people. In fact if you could see through me. ..you would see the word ‘Pegswood’ ingrained in me, like a piece of rock.
What is it about the North East that attracts you?
Of the many things that attract me about the North East, the main areas would be, it’s many interesting places & venues to visit (& photograph), the friendly people, & varied cultures. It’s also endearing that in many areas around the North East, there are still some that maintain a good, strong community spirit.
Have you studied photography or art? If so where and when?
I’ve always been interested in taking pictures but really got in to it nearly 9 years ago! I was hooked when I completed my first introductory photography course with Paul Alexander Knox at Shiney Row college. It then led me to do my GCSE, Foundation and finally BA (Hons) at the University of Sunderland.
Where can people find you online?