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Work / Photography

The Anonymous Project charts our history using strangers’ photographic slides

“As a filmmaker I have always loved stories and colour slides feel like a frame cut out of a longer narrative,” explains founder of The Anonymous Project, Lee Shulman. Originally from the UK but now based in Paris, Lee’s obsession with photographic slides led him to begin the project in January of this year as a means of collecting and protecting stranger’s Kodacrome-colour slides from flea markets and personal collections. Alongside freelance book-editor Emmanuelle Halkin, Lee has amassed a collection of nearly 400,000 slides since the project’s inception.

“The magic of colour photography is that when the chemicals on the film are exposed to light, colour is created. The problem is that these chemicals degrade over time, eventually leaving no trace of the image,” reads the description on Lee and Emmanuelle’s website. Their mission is to collect, conserve and scan these photographic slides in order to create a database representative of our shared history – a pool of artefacts of daily life from the 1960s through to the digital age. Lee describes each slide as a “little window into our past, a collective memory of our lives and experiences.”

Juggling The Anonymous Project alongside other projects and with thousands of slides that require treatment and scanning, Lee and Emmanuelle enlisted the help of Jesus, an intern from Paraguay. They have also created an international network of collaborators and friends who aid them in sourcing the slides – “it feels like a bigger structure, even though the reality is we are just three people in an office,” says Lee.

Despite having collected nearly 400,000 slides, The Anonymous Project currently stands at an edited selection of around 3000 images. The ones that make it “tend of have some form of human presence or narrative, an emotional involvement,” says Lee. Rarely do landscapes enter into the collection although the duo haven’t ruled out the idea of diving back into the “non-selects” to find other subjects and themes.

The collection is presented thematically as there are motifs that crop up again and again. “We share more than we like to admit. When I looked at the slides, I found that the subjects were often the same,” explains Lee adding that, “these are often very physical themes like celebrations, photos at the beach or people with their cars.” However, some themes are more carefully curated around emotions or stories. The Anonymous Project will soon feature a new theme called Camera in Hand featuring many of the unknown photographers themselves.

The Anonymous Project provides a means to reflect on our humanity and the shared experiences that unite us. The pair explain on their website how “this is especially important now, at a time when divisions in the world are so great and nationalism is on the rise particularly in the West. Through these images we will learn that our need for love, laughter, intimacy, and celebration are what binds us all.”

Although currently only existing online, The Anonymous Project will hold its first major exhibition in Paris at the end of January 2018 which will then travel to London. The exhibition will be a comprehensive look at a large cross section of the collection and also include an interactive experience and slide projector. As well as the upcoming show, Lee and Emmanuelle recently signed a book deal and so will be turning the database into a publication for release next year.

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