We Once Were
We Once Were, is an installation of 44 small, mixed media paintings on wood panels. Each panel depicts the representation of an unidentified person who lived in Denver, Colorado over a hundred years ago. This work is inspired by a group of glass plate negatives from the late 1800’s–early 1900’s. The negatives were purchased at a large antique mall on the outskirts of Denver that sells a wide variety of historical items collected from local garage and estate sales. I enlarged parts of these ‘found’ portraits into photolithographic negatives, printed them onto stained birch plywood and embellished the imagery with painting and drawing.
The title is a reference to Roland Barthes famous reflection that the essence or noeme, of a photograph can best be described as “that –has –been.” Barthes also noted that each photograph represents evidence of a little death– a moment that will never exist again. In this work, I was interested in bringing the ‘evidence’ of these peoples existence into a new context and looking to the past, as a way to contemplate how photography and our relationship to being photographed has changed so drastically in the last 100 years. Removing the portraits from their original context and reinvestigating their meaning captures the melancholy and sadness in these anonymous, discarded photographs. My process in creating We Once Were strives to reveal both the splendor and tragedy of humanity, and the role of photography in our complex relationships with time and death.
–Susanne Mitchell (2013)