All images © The Anonymous Project

this archive of vintage photographs show us how little we’ve all changed

An expansive catalogue of undeveloped slides from across the world.

by Ryan White
01 August 2019, 2:27pm

All images © The Anonymous Project

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

When Lee Shulman impulsively a bought a box vintage slides a couples years ago, he had no idea it would spark such an obsession in him. Opening the box and holding every single slide up to the light, he discovered so many of them to be a poignant and artfully framed vignette into the life of an anonymous person. “I have always had a fascination for slide photography and as a filmmaker I have always loved the projected image,” Lee says. “But I was just blown away by these intimate moments of life frozen in time. I found them charged with emotion.”

What started as a hobby, sifting through more and more boxes, grew to became a full-time undertaking. The result is The Anonymous Project: a catalogue of the best images Lee and Emmanuelle Halkin have gathered from all over the world. With so many of them taken in the 1950s -- a golden age of amateur photography when cameras became cheaper and readily available -- finding their owners is not their aim. Instead, Lee wants to create an archive of images that feels personal despite its subject anonymity, and ties us to a generation before us in ways we might not have imaged. “It’s a daily labour of love,” he adds. “We have viewed over 800,000 slides so far and it is a monumental task on some levels, but, as long as the pleasure is there, the workload is not a problem. At the beginning I was just buying the boxes online, but as the collection grew rapidly it wasn’t long before we had people just sending over their finds. We receive boxes of slides on a weekly basis now.”


So much work goes into sourcing and cataloguing the images. What is it that you gain from archiving these images on a personal level?
Every image that goes into the collection is a purely personal choice. This is what makes the project unique. In each image that I view, if I feel an emotional connection it becomes part of the collection. This is definitely the most gratifying part of the work. All these slides are complete unique one-offs, like miniature works of art, each with its own intimate story attached. There is a sense of mystery around who these people where and what their lives must of been like that I find intriguing. As a film director I find new ways of associating these images together to create new stories. This is a storytelling project in essence.


Do you think there a particular quality to these images that resonates with you most?
Technically there is an incredible quality and colour to these images that seems so modern and fresh even though they are often over 60 years old. I love the depth of the images, there is an almost 3D quality to the images when you hold them up to the light. I love the cinematic quality of slides, the idea of a home cinema style projection is something so unique. For me I love the imperfections of amateur photography that make it so honest and intimate. This is life unadulterated.


What's the criteria when deciding which images you'll publish online?
Well it’s a totally subjective. I Iike to publish at least one or two of our daily finds on Instagram. Once again it’s a totally emotional decision… it’s how I feel at that very moment and if the image speaks to me.

In terms of how the images are framed, does it feel like people's relationship with the camera has changed over the last 50 years?
At the time there was no re-cropping or filter or enhancements. This was a very raw process.

Imagine that, firstly, you had to have a pretty decent set-up. Taking an image was a complicated process as framing and exposure was never an exact art. Once the image was taken, the film would be sent off and you would receive the slides a month later where you would need a slide projector to see the final image! It’s was a real leap of faith unlike today.

Often you invited the family and close friends to watch and share an evening home projection of your slides. In this respect they were the first form of social media. I often feel there is a great similarity between these two worlds.


Specifically what is The House, your new exhibition at Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, looking to explore?
I was particularly interested in the idea of what makes a house a home. This question is at the core of the exhibition and through the images and curation of them I have tried to explore this notion. Often the house is where we feel most secure. It’s where we can let our hair down and just be ourselves away from the constraints of social graces and codes. These images capture very intimate family moments, they are a collective memory that belong to us all. I believe we can all find a little bit of ourselves in all these images.


In an era of total photographic online emersion, what do you think these images teach us about the past?
Well I think we can learn an enormous amount about ourselves. We can often find similarities between these images and images we take today. I often look at the images I take of my own family and see so many instances that are almost identical in these types of images. I believe that we all have the same aspirations and hopes for ourselves and our loved one. Codes may have changed but in the end we all strive for the same goals. It’s quite comforting on a humanist level. Different but the same is the way I see it.


Is there an image or set that means the most to you?
That’s a hard one. I love so many of these images for so many different reasons. There is a set of images from the 1950s that we received that I call “the lover’s box”. The box itself is a thing of beauty. Leather bound and very chic. Inside it recounts the story of a young couple very much in love. It’s strange as the images feature almost entirely the couple in very intimate close-up moments of life. I soon realised that they had used a timer to capture themselves together, almost like a vintage selfie. This is an incredible love story. I often wonder who they were.



All images © The Anonymous Project

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.