Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Museum of Forgotten Lives

One of the best things about Lewes is its Flea Market - a vast emporium of antiques and collectables housed in a large, converted Methodist Chapel. At first glance it seems a fairly typical antiques centre. However, the usual displays of jewellery, china, furniture and art are augmented by some very bizarre items, and the end result looks like a cross between a Mike Nelson art installation and a museum curated by a madman.

The end result is both tragic and comic.

On the one hand, it is hard not to be amused by the picture below: a dreadful, Boris Vallejo-esque depiction of the slaying of the Minotaur. The juxtaposition of this painting with a 1981 Royal Wedding souvenir tin adds to the absurdity of the scene. But there is perhaps an unintentional poignancy too, given the Greek tragedy of Charles and Diana's marriage.

The scene below is also superficially comic, but I can't help wondering what the couple in the photo would have thought if they'd known that, 80 years later, their picture would no longer adorn the wall of a home, but sit behind a naked manikin waiting to be bought by someone who would probably just keep the frame.

This is a studio portrait and it looks as if the couple are wearing their 'Sunday best'. Are they man and wife or father and daughter? I would love to know their story and find out how the picture came to be abandoned, but there were no clues on the back of the frame.

There are several albums of photos from the 1920s and 30s, including one of a well-to-do couple on a cruise in the Mediterranean. Sitting in deckchairs, sipping cocktails, they look like characters from an Evelyn Waugh novel and it is sad that, within less than a century, they lie nameless and forgotten in an upmarket junk shop.

Perhaps the oddest thing of all is this filing cabinet, which has two drawers with labels on which the word Holocaust is crossed out and replaced with 'car docs' and 'note books'.

The Flea Market gives the visitor an archaeology of the human soul (pretentious, moi?), offering tantalising fragments of lost lives and bygone fashions. Many of its items are neither beautiful or useful and are probably doomed to remain unsold until they end up on a landfill site.

I wonder what will become of us all, with our thousands of photos and countless possessions? We have produced more written material since 1945 than the in whole of human history, and even the largest bookshops can only stock a fraction of what is in print. I would at least like to think that in 200 years time, my descendants would have some record of my existence. However, my visits to the local rubbish dump and Lewes Flea Market don't fill me with hope.


Richard de Pesando MA(RCA) said...

'found' photogaphy is one of my hobbies, the mysterious lives of the people in these images, and the tragedy of finding whole generations of memories consigned to cardboard boxes in dingy shops and places like Snoopers is intoxicating.

some links for your pleasure and delight -

Steerforth said...

Excellent links! Many thanks. I particularly enjoyed

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Brian Sewall, eat your heart out!

Actually I know Lewes fleamarket well (as my late cousin - several times removed - lived in Lewes until her death 2 years ago whom I would visit for the odd weekend). Probably some of her possessions now grace this selfsame den of poignancy. Not that she had anything worth a great deal, bar the photos. Luckily her daughter has transcribed all her father's love letters to her mother from the war (he was a desert rat) and they will be published - probably under the title 'Turbans Are My Weakness' a quote from one of his letters to her! A very good editing and narrating job Jenny has done too - I was most impressed.

So my late cousin and husband at least will receive some fitting memorial to their lives. And you of course have your fine blog Steerforth - not just a tribute to yourself but to others by default (and hopefully a few other things besides that you have yet to dream up)

It will certainly a case of becoming more and more inventive though for sure - and I don't want to end up a park bench when I die anymore than a pile of cheap jewellery either.

Chilling re the grisly Bisley. Unless it came from a school or university of course. You seem to have an amazing talent for zeroing in on these details that others might miss.