Annette Dennis is fascinated by other people’s holidays. While most of us contemplate a French exit when a friend rushes upstairs to find a stash of badly exposed disposable shots of their red-faced partner gauzily gazing into the lens while toting a carafe of Vin de table in a Parisian side street, Annette actively seeks out snapshots from fortnights in foreign countries gone by.
Having rifled through junk shops, estate sales, and the dusty digital shelves of eBay for years, she’s amassed a 4000-image strong selection of 35mm slides. 46 of them have been collated in Vacationist, a large-format photo book released by the Texas-based experimental publishing imprint and design studio Annette runs, Dossier Industries.
The use of slides rather than traditional photographs is both a practical and aesthetic decision. “For me,” Annette says, “slides hold a seductive immediacy – you can hold a positive slide up to the light and see a window into a bright, clear image straight away. An old photograph is usually faded or damaged; negatives are harder to come by and often don’t hold up well either.”
There is something strangely seductive about the images she’s brought together, in woozy, sad way. Men who became our great grandfathers sit topless on the beach, their young, lithe bodies not yet wracked by the toils of age; Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal are glanced at, destined to be little more than faint traces of half-remembered memory; daytrippers snooze on the upper deck of steamboats that have since been packed off to scrapyards. Or maybe that haven’t; Vacationist, invites the viewer to invest the slides with narrative purpose.
Annette settled on the holiday theme early on in the research process. Having looked at some of the most intimate moments of stranger’s lives – from newborn babies to open casket funerals – she knew she wanted to avoid intrusion, and the intentionally sharable holiday photo made sense. As she puts it, “the purpose of taking photographs when you’re on vacation is to show them to people – the images are captured with the onlooker’s gaze in mind.”
The publication’s front cover is a photo of an elderly woman gamely tucking into a turkey leg the size of a toddler. Flick to the back page of Vacationist and you’ll notice there’s a quote from French-Algerian deconstructionist Jacques Derrida: ghosts, he says, are part of the future, and the modern technology of cinematography and telecommunication enhances the power of ghosts and their ability to haunt us.
When we asked Annette to join the dots between slides, strangers, and seriously difficult continental philosophy, she threw the question to writer Sanja Grozdanic, who provided text for Vacationist.
“The Derrida quote comes from Ken McMullen’s improvisational film, Ghost Dance. Derrida is asked whether he believes in ghosts, and he replies that he already is one,” Sanja says. “Another way to think about this is that I was recently told that the Bengali word for ghosts is bhoot, which also translates to the past. All memory is a kind of haunting. Looking through Vacationist I felt as if I were trespassing on someone’s intimate moments; which encouraged me to go through my own – an important ritual for us all; exorcising some, summoning others, as needed.”
Finally, worried that we’d slipped into the ever-tempting quicksand of nostalgic wallowing, we asked Annette if she felt that the grit and grain of 35mm images would always have a more potent emotional punch than a glossy digital file.
“It depends if they’re your personal photographs, or found photographs. Found photographs for me will always have an intriguing ghostly quality, even when they are digital.”
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