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Matinee: David Killeen's 'To You I Follow' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

16 May 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the eighty-fifth in our series of Saturday matinees today: David Killeen's To You I Follow.

In this 14-minute piece, Irish photographer David Killeen tells two stories. One is his own, as he takes a series of color photographs in Switzerland. The other is that of a young couple 75 years earlier who had taken the same trip and made the same photographs in black and white.

Photography is often accused of freezing time. You capture "the moment." You can examine what happened in 1/125 second years ago for as long as you care to look at it.

But in Killeen's project, it isn't so much that the 2010 trip or the trip made in 1935 stands still. It's the time between them that resonates.

We are reminded of Henry Moore's sculpture. Where you might see a hole in a piece, he would see two connections, one above the hole and the other below it.

Killeen bought the album for £3 from a collector of photo albums with whom he had been discussing his love of travel and photography and desire to take a road trip to shoot in the Alps.

The collector had found the perfect thing for Killeen. An album of a British couple's trip through the Alps from late August to early September 1935, complete with captioned and dated photos and, in the back, a fold-out map tracing their route.

The album is the woman's work, Killeen believes.

They were wealthy, traveling by air. A sticker on the back cover identifies the village where the blank album itself was purchased. But complete identification wasn't possible.

The captioned and dated photographs are the signposts, but the map is the string that holds the whole thing together. It inspired him to begin "chasing after these people who had a 75-year head start."

The woman's images, he observes, are not merely tourist snapshots. They are well composed but she was not drawn to the predominant scene, the tourist view, but to things in the area, often in the opposite direction of the main view, that caught her eye.

He doesn't mind not knowing who the couple is but one or two images that have no date or caption bothered him. He wanted to duplicate the album's images, but those two unidentified images would make it difficult.

Fortunately, he was able to find his unlabeled scenes. He tells you how he found the one of a chateau almost by accident. "But that's not the surreal thing," he adds.

The surreal thing was that when he came home to prepare for the exhibition of the images, he removed the unlabeled chateau image for reproduction. On the back of the image was a note, "Somewhere on Lake Lucern. I don't know where do you?"

That was one question for which he had an answer.

He also tells an amusing story about a border shot, where he felt he had to explain what he was doing to the guards, showing them the original photo. When they saw the photo had a guard in it, one of them volunteered to be in the new version.

Because the trip was in the Alps, the effects of global warming are evident as well, Killeen says. In some cases it made it hard to identify the right spot to take the modern image even though he was there on the same day of the year as his predecessors.

The last shot he discusses is a less carefully composed image of a bridge into Germany, which the couple did not cross, that almost seems to warn against what was happening on the other side of that river. In September 1935, as the anonymous British couple completed their holiday trip to the Alps, the antisemitic Nuremberg Laws were passed in Germany. Dark days lay ahead for Europe.

He likes to keep things simple, he says, happy if you look at his photos for just five seconds. And you will, feeling the 75 years between the two versions and searching for similarities in images that are worlds apart.

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