Julie Rafalski

Photograph from the Past

Looking at old photographs or old images in books, we see an instance of what once existed - what once existed in a specific configuration.

Looking at the cover photo of a book about Mies van der Rohe, published in 1985, there are pigeons, piles of melting snow, some people walking in the distance, the Mies steel and glass buildings, the reflections in the glass of the Calder sculpture in the square, the sunlight trickling in through the gaps in the buildings…

This particular configuration will never reoccur: pigeons who will not return to these same locations, the piles of shovelled snow that will never repeat their precise past shapes, the woman trapped on the sidewalk in the photo, the invisible people in the office building and the invisible people outside of the frame. 1986 has not yet arrived, neither has the end of the Cold War, nor the blizzard of 99 nor the minute after this photo was taken. The configuration of things happening is mixed in with those that are yet to happen.

Each photograph implies an infinite series of losses that accompanies the passing of time. But looking at a photograph from the past also underlines the fact that we have the knowledge of subsequent events.

To the photograph which is stuck with showing this one image ad infinitum, it must be a relief to have viewers. It welcomes us with open arms, for we can tell of what happens in the time after the moment it is trapped with. We can look at it with the knowledge of the future.