Pandemic Objects: Dreams


V&A East
May 29, 2020

Many people have said that lockdown has had a huge impact on their sleep patterns and their dreams. My covid dreams have been set firmly in the past, sometimes recognisably my past, at other times the past of others. Perhaps the most vivid and recurrent is a sensation of leafing through old photographs of people unknown to me.

It has reminded me of going through my father’s belongings after his death. A few weeks after my father passed I found an old suitcase on the top of his wardrobe. Inside was a small box and two old reams of cloth that still smelt of petroleum jelly, paraffin and palm oil. I opened the box, (labelled intriguingly, Kosmos Bromide,) within were a pristine packet of photographic printing papers, dozens of letters and photographs of people unknown to me. I looked at each picture, each photograph an enigma that captured treasured aspects of a boyhood. I tried to read each image as an artefact, as a piece of archaeology, to suck out a clue; each tear, wallet-crease, the smell, the traces of termite and foxing, an inscription on the back, ‘with love and best wishes Abi’, but they seemed to say very little. The name, Abi, like so many in the box was intriguing, who was she? Perhaps a favourite cousin, a distant aunt, a teenage crush? A plethora of tiny intimate archaeological fragments and clues suggested I should know about these objects; their owner, maybe their creator was my father. Strangely, rather than making me feel closer to my father, I somehow momentarily felt distanced by the enigma. Somewhere in the pupils of those eyes was the reflection of the photographer, maybe a professional, but perhaps a young man navigating his first independent steps; a moment that I could never know.

One Ghanaian photographer told me whilst taking my picture, that photographers were like time sculptors, they knew about how to play with infinity. The very light that etched images on the photo-reactive paper was part of an energy born with our universe, it had travelled across time and space, to die within the closing leaves of a camera’s iris, to die whilst etching a single moment in light and shadow on paper, to die whilst bestowing upon its subject, some sort of immortality. The extinguishing light reflected in those eyes was born at the time of the big bang, it was born in God’s eyes, the camera is simply the medium, the vessel for diffusing and capturing the moment of interaction between subject and infinity.

Perhaps in this time of covid, in this period suspended in time, my sub-conscious is offering a kind of privileged access to lost history, to lost memory, to lost loved ones. Tiny fractured micro-moments of memory are drifting back like fragments of old lost photographs, lost from context but still potent with meaning. Though I might not know her, with years of hindsight, I recognise that unlimited love.

Related Objects from the Collections:

Young Man with a Flower (photograph)
Seydou Keita
Bamako, Mali
1958

Young Man with a Flower (photograph) by Seydou Keita E.1419-2001 Victoria and Albert Museum
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