When Marian and I spent our day at the York shooting photos, one thing became apparent to both of us: there were objects in that place that spoke volumes about the history of the hotel and the human lives it held for so many years.
We also knew that all of these things would be destroyed when the building was demolished; it was going to be torn down as-is.
So, as part of the process of recording what we found at the York, we brought a few things out of the hotel at the end of the shoot. Small things to be sure – but nonetheless, they seemed to embody the complicated and contradictory world we found there in that state of odd semi-suspended-animation.
We also felt that it wasn’t at all appropriate to present these items in their found state for public viewing as part of this project; that felt voyeuristic and gratuitous. The people who once used and touched these objects deserve far more respect than that.
In the end, we decided to cast some of these things, and see how the objects could be ‘read’ – the notion of them being represented but simultaneously absent (the cast is obviously not the thing itself, but a marker for that thing) held appeal for both of us. This tension between presence and absence seemed to sum up our experience of the place, and the fleeting glimpse of the remnants of so many other lives that we saw that day.
It turns out – not surprisingly – that there’s more history in (and on) some of these objects than we first bargained for. I was checking the state of a mould I was making of an ornament we found … and discovered this:
So – there’s the original colour underneath – revealed after who-knows-how-many-years of being coated with cigarette smoke. That layer of yellow-brown scum peeled away from the inside of the mould, thankfully!
Struck me as a very apt visual metaphor for the whole project: we seem to be discovering little moments of beauty in all of this. It’s there, but you have to look carefully, peel back the layers, and dig a bit.