South Park Self

back in the same place ... this, to me, is, like, totally significant

Bother. If I hadn't used that particular DR & Quinch quote for the subject line of my last post, I could have used it for this one. Oh, well. As it turns out, DR & Quinch have a quote for everything.

You may have seen that BoingBoing link to the shooting gallery photographs: one Dutch woman has gone to a shooting gallery almost every year since 1936, and shot at a target which automatically takes a photograph of her. In these sequenced photos, united by the repeating image of her stance with the fairground rifle, you have her life from a teenager to a determined 88-year-old who still goes and takes her shot, year after year. On one level it's the most amazing catalogue of history: pre-war, the significant gap in photographs 1939-45, then post-war, through the fifties and sixties and seventies, with all the concomitant changes. The interesting thing is how the people around her change: all the kids' fashions in their 70s and 80s glory, and the shooting gallery surrounds gradually filling up with cheap plastic mass-produced junk. She doesn't change, much. She gets older, but apparently your style is fairly set by your younger days. Particularly, I suspect, if you're strong-minded enough to stick to this kind of tradition in the teeth of all odds.

On another level the sequence is fascinating because of its documentation of technology: early black-and-white photographs, gradually morphing into cheap, over-exposed colour, and then better colour, and around her people are caught more and more often raising cameras of their own. In the last decade onlookers have video cameras, suggesting not only the ubiquity of the technology, but, by inference, the development of media interconnectedness - after all these years the ritual has become notable enough that she has a fan club, her annual gesture has become the stuff of contemporary media sound-bytes.

On yet another level, I am floored by this on in fairly emotional terms - partly, I think, because her clothing and body-shape and general air of cussed determination remind me of my own grandmothers, who were both ladies of personality perfectly capable of sticking to their guns, if you'll forgive the awful pun, to this degree. But above all, this is a testament to continuity, to the possibility of return and permanence which reminds us how increasingly such an annual return becomes impossible in the bulk of modern lives, particularly ours in Africa. I could not have gone to the same place every year since I was sixteen to record a photograph. I'm unusual in that I could actually have gone to the same place since I was about nineteen, since I've been in Cape Town all that time, but it would have to be a fairly immoveable landmark. I can't think of any sideshow attraction which would have endured that long, through all the political and economic and cultural changes we have undergone. A lot of my friends and family couldn't have done it, either, they've been all over the world at one time or another. We are far more rootless these days, drifting between towns and continents at the drop of a hat; it's not only that one small fairground sideshow is unlikely to keep going, it's that we're unlikely to be there to patronise it.

So the whole thing segues quite neatly into the other BoingBoing link this morning, which was to Douglas Coupland's radical pessimist's guide to the next ten years: the two articles are fascinating read in conjunction. Our present already feels as though it shifts and changes faster than we can catch up with; the future, he says, is going to feel even faster than it does now. On some level this is exciting, but at the same time there's a sense of nostalgic regret for the kind of life where a woman can raise a toy rifle and take a picture in the same place as an annual tradition for over seventy years. Perhaps I'd find it dull, but there's a part of me which envies her her life, and her times.
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Great personal insight
I appreciate your thoughtful response to this simple yet remarkable sequence of photographs -- makes me see them in yet another light. Cheers!


Jim Casper, editor, Lens Culture
I was going to say something tairbly insightful, but you're covered it beautifully. :)