Found material is a private experience. If I use it I try not to draw narrative conclusions from it. It’s not there to provide “story”. The reader doesn’t need my idea of what happened. I don’t need the reader’s–that would be a crude intrusion into someone else’s fantasies. But there’s more. We both know how interpretations spin away from found material, but we also recognise that choosing one of them breaks “history” out of its quantum state and turns it into a lurching caricature, a bad guess, a sentimentalised drawing of an event in someone else’s life. Found material might be “evidence” –might even be a direct, indexical sign of a thing that happened–but the thing that happened, the life that contained it, can’t be reassembled, or back-engineered into existence. It’s only what it is now: if you try to glue the fragments together with the sentiments “evoked” in you, all you will have is a golem. All you’ve done is bully the mud into a shape that satisfies your needs. But avoid interpretation as determinedly as you can, and you have a metaphor for the way we encounter not just the past but the present: lives as the most tentative assemblages; interactions in your own life as partially interpretable fragments, fading images, achieving the condition of conversations overheard on the tops of buses, postcards from the past even as they happen.
Originally published 2018
“Aren’t we having the photographs?”