Copyright Bill Westheimer 2009
An emotional trigger is when one experiences an event or in the presence of an object, there is an immediate recall of memories of past events and related emotions. Triggers can be diverse, such as a whiff of a particular perfume may recall visits with a favorite Aunt or perhaps the first dance with a future spouse. The trigger may also recall a traumatic event or a last conversation, and for some, the intensity of the memories may even allow someone to recall the touch, smell and background noises. I swear that when I think of my grandparent’s home in Western Pennsylvania, I can smell the faint scent of coal dust that seems to linger in that region.
Bill Westheimer’s book Momento strives to capture the collected memories associated with an object, in particular cameras, that have been kept as mementos. He couples a specific camera with the story of an associated memory. An undercurrent to this book is the reason why we keep mementos, for the associated memories that we hope to hold and treasure.
For many, the camera is the equipment that we might actual use to create specific memories, the photographic documentation of a person or a place. I do not think that many think of the camera as an memento object to be treasured, save one, the photographer behind the camera. Nevertheless, almost any object can carry with it a memory for its save-keeper. And sometimes those objects and related memories are passed along, with the memories perhaps becoming stronger, perhaps weaker and many times changing specificily with whom it now resides.
Like a lot of momentos, these cameras have been difficult to give up, trade in, sell or give away, as the strong pull of the associated memories appear to be too strong. As an example, Bill shares his personal memories that his collection of camera is associated with memories of his father and grandfather, as well as of events related to his decision to persue photography and his subsequent photographic projects.
The camera may be a keepsake from a favorite relative, perhaps from one that they had not know well, but they may use this momento to dream about where it might have been, what it might have seen, and to know that it was in a special persons hands. For some photographers, these camera momento’s are links to a past experience, such as although they may now be full digital, the film camera brings back the smell of film developer and fixer of darkroom days long past.
I have enjoyed these stories and find myself recalling past memories with my own closet respository of cameras which sometimes haunt me with their close presence, but no longer in active use. I have my own Nikkormat, Canon FT, Palorid SX-70, Instamatic and twin lens reflex (620 format) cameras stories that silently whispered to me as I paged through this book. And more recently the stories of why my Minolta one degree spot meter is totally unusable, with the prism permanently dislodged and out of alignment from the last time I inadvertently dropped it, and my other film cameras which sit silently on the shelf. Similar to Jay Maisel’s story about his iPan CrazyCam, that although he has not used this film camera for the last seven years, that “like everything in my life, it’s on my list”.
The accompanying camera photographs were created by Bill using a collodion wet plate (black and white) negatives with an 8 x 10 view camera. A process that pre-dates most of the cameras photographed, that leaves a somewhat trademark of mottling within the image and the wet plate holder shadows framing the image. This provides an interesting contrast of the old process documenting the relatively new camera equipment. The cameras as a still life object has not become a cliche like a vase of lilies, sea shells or perhaps a pepper.
One issue that I have with this book is that what appears to be an attempt to create a larger variety of shapes to avoid a static sameness, some of the photographs are displayed inverted on the page. The placement of the inverted shadows creates an unsatisfactory tension in relation to the memories being shared. Similarly, how the object fills or is truncated by the framing of the pictorial edges, also increases the feeling of tension. It is though the photographic images and the layout design were completed independent of the book’s intent, which I feel to be the warm and fond memories that are related to an object and to be ”comfort food” for photographers. The depiction of the object does not feel related to the object’s own story.
I did enjoy the shared stories and how the many of the photographs triggered my own memories while I was paging through this stiffcover book. Also to note that this book has a glued in spine typically of a print on demand perfect bound book, and the printing does take full advantage of a full black & white tonal scale.
Best regards, Douglas Stockdale