Next month Taschen is releasing a mammoth 560-page book of Andy Warhol’s Polaroids. Photos of celebrities like Deborah Harry, Jack Nicholson, and Grace Jones are easy enough for viewers to pick out, but a recent project by Canadian visual sociologist Kyler Zeleny takes a very different approach to the Polaroid medium. Over the years Zeleny has collected over six thousand shots of strangers. Now his plan is to track down the original owners, and he’s turning to the internet for help. Failing that, he’d at least like you to write him a short story.
Zeleny, whose other projects include a book of rural Canadian decay, has a master’s degree in Photography and Urban Cultures, which frankly sounds like a really awesome field to get a master’s degree in. He asked visitors to his Found Polaroids website to contribute one or more short stories photos that he’s posted, and he’s put up a selection of entries on the site. “Quality writing paired with these lovely images can be moving,” he says by way of explanation, “and helps give life back to images that might otherwise find themselves in a waste bin.” Eventually, selected stories will be collected and published in book form. Zeleny’s site also hints at a traveling exhibition in the future.
There’s a wide range of emotion expressed by these photos that goes beyond simple nostalgia. Yes, there’s funny haircuts and loud wallpaper, and the retro fashions and old-timey automobiles give them a dated charm But there’s a lot more than that going on, which is why it’s so easy for viewers to project feelings onto these often candid moments in people’s lives. For instance, It’s funny seeing a man in a patterned shirt sitting on a floral sofa with mismatched floral pillows. It’s even funnier seeing some guy’s butt with the handwritten words “Best Buns In Town / Victor’s Buttock” underneath. On the other hand, there’s something a little bit sad about an elderly lady in a bathrobe playing solitaire with a bed as her card table. But Victor could be crying, for all we know, and the old lady might be giddy with excitment. That’s what makes the fiction element of the project so exciting. We’ll just never know the real stories.