Thinking About Photography
Dedicated to expanding our ideas about photography
Martha Naranjo Sandoval
©Martha Naranjo Sandoval, Bellows 39
Family photographs are important to me. My dad is from a low-income family who could only afford to have two photographs taken of him as a kid. My mom is from a family of nine siblings, all of them orphaned when she was four. All their pictures are scattered among my aunts and uncles and rarely do I get to see what my grandfather looked like, and only then on a phone picture of a picture.
©Martha Naranjo Sandoval, Bellows 3
Maybe it was because of this lack of access to my own family archive that I started collecting other people’s pictures. Everywhere I travel, I stop at yard sales, and visit local flea markets to give orphaned pictures a home. A few years back a friend gave me a box of pictures she got at an estate sale. It contained a lot of slides, including stereoscopic slides, which I hadn’t heard of before. The moment I got a viewer, I fell in love. It is not easy to explain how it feels to experience them: you peep into a special viewer to see these back-lit images create small three-dimensional spaces frozen in time. You don’t feel like you are in the middle of a scene, more like you are spying on a miniature world.
©Martha Naranjo Sandoval, Bellows 34
Since then, I’ve increased my collection to over four thousand family stereo slides. I started collecting by family and invested in other people’s lives, wondering: who they were, what they liked, and why their family pictures were discarded. At some point, I started to think about ways of playing with these images and came up with the idea of collaging image spaces, starting what would become my project, Bellows. This idea is easier said than done. It took me a year of experimenting and trying to come up with the right formula to create spaces that the viewer’s brain would still interpret as 3-D.
©Martha Naranjo Sandoval, Bellows 25
I have made forty collages. At first I could only collage two images in very simple ways. Now, I can create any kind of space with elements as close or as far from the viewer as I imagine. To make them I first go through my slides and set aside the ones that catch my eye. I then scan both the right and left frames of each. In Photoshop, I make two collages, one for each frame. The relationship between objects in these collages determines the dimensionality, and if the viewer will interpret the image as 3-D. Both images are then recorded onto slide film and mounted onto slide mounts.
©Martha Naranjo Sandoval, Bellows 15
Family pictures create communal spaces. I remember after a trip, my family would gather around a stack of pictures and flip through them, passing them from person to person; or when a family member would invite us over for a carrousel viewing of an event; or when someone would bring out an album as a means of reminiscing. I exhibit my constructed family archives, allowing the audience to choose and change which stereo slides they would like to view from a back-lit slide sorter and multiple stereo viewers. When I create these collages I am making up a new family album that includes all of these families whose album has been discarded. When I invite the audience to view them, I create a new communal space that includes them.
©Martha Naranjo Sandoval, Bellows 8