Time machine

On our respective eighth birthdays my father bought me and my brother a camera each, a Kodak Instamatic (we were at that squabblesome age where all presents had to be identical). Here's a photo taken by my brother of me with my parents, somewhere on Dartmoor.

And here's one of the first photos I ever took, of Sandy our new labrador puppy, back in 1976. I know it's 1976 because that was the year of the drought and you can see how dry the ground is.

I still have the camera and for some reason or other I turned it out earlier this autumn.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was still a half-finished film inside. I had no idea what could be on it. And then I found out that it's still possible to get film processed, at a price, so we finished it off and took it to the printers.

This is the first picture I saw when I opened the envelope, and immediately I knew where I was.

The year was 1986. I was eighteen and had just left school. This is Susannah, my girlfriend at the time. It was early autumn and we were stomping around the fields behind my childhood home in Devon. Gap years meant we went our separate ways and I haven't seen her since (if you're reading this Susannah - hallo! I hope life did you well).

Looking over my shoulder, the shop assistant was most apologetic about the print quality. "There's dust on the lens, see. It would all look better in black and white." I smiled and said nothing. For me it's the random effects of light, age and chemistry that make these images so compelling.

Here's Susannah again, with our house behind her. Sandy died after eating poison, so that's Pip you can see in the bottom right.

We must have gone to the legendary Friday market in hippy hangout Totnes (a stronger contender for Goblin Market you'll be hard put to find) for here's a character who used to wander round with a parrot on his shoulder (and a streak of guano down his back). Someone told me he's dead now. The jangled colours make him look like a ghost.

Fast forward twenty five years and I am back on Dartmoor, but married now, another chapter of the same story laid out on a single papyral roll of film.

We take photos to help us remember, precisely because our memory is not photographic. It can't be trusted. Colours fade. Events blur. Timings become uncertain (I had quite forgotten that autumn day with Susannah - maybe it was our last together?).

But even photos, with their uncanny ability to freeze time, make ghosts of us all. We are already shades.


  1. What a cool thing, Andy. I love the images, so painterly and so much LIKE memory, really - soft around the edges, not quite the colors of "real life" whatever that is - dreamy. I often think of how dreams and memories are similar, they seem to live in the same place of blurriness and overlaps. I have an old camera tucked away in my studio. I need to find it and see if IT has any lost memories tucked inside!

  2. Wonderful Andy, glorious colours. I have a Super 8 film which is finished but undeveloped, mostly shot around Radley Lakes around the time of the protest there. Time to get it developed methinks.

    Dave T

  3. How wonderful to find it, and be able to develop it! I remember 1986 very fondly...it was the middle year of art college, and the year my other half and I started 'going out'...of course, we didn't realise at the time it would be for the next 25 (almost 26 in fact) years!

  4. How fantastic. Chemical camera moments are quite something; they freeze frame memories and create a magic all of their own.

    The images have a life of their own that just begs to be mounted in a constructed frame with found objects.

  5. Wow, such a brilliant post Andy - and how amazing to get to look back in time. I agree the colours are wonderful.
    That parrot looks more like an owl to me!
    Love to you both xxx

  6. Wonderful images.

    Your last comment about photos making ghosts of us all reminds me of a wonderful and eerie, but very dimly remembered, Sapphire and Steel episode about being able to time travel using photographs.



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