Edward Hopper · Look Here · Photos

Look Here: “Film in stolen camera, location unknown”

All six of the images posted below come from the website of the Historic Houses Trust (HHT) of New South Wales (NSW), which hosts an amazing digital public archive that includes forensic photography collected and created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964:


The images are all from envelope no. 55/2763, and have been catalogued and posted by HHT in sequence: 36418, 36419, 36420, 36422, 36423, 36424.

The online records all include the same one line description — “Film in stolen camera, location unknown” — and the same date, 20 October 1955 — 58 years ago today!

Where were the photographs taken? A racetrack? A racetrack for what? Horses? Dogs? Is the person who stole the camera visible in any of the photographs? Are any of those people still alive? Does the ghostly apparition in short pants in the second photograph have grandkids who are excited to squirm into their costumes and haunt the surrounding neighbourhoods at Halloween this year? What was the attraction of the white stone statue — a monk? a saint? — in the niche on the side of that building? What is that building, anyway? A church? The entrance to the track? What is beyond that picket fence?

Why are blurry old black-and-white snapshots of the inscrutable activities of strangers so intriguing, so disturbing, so haunting?

Think they’re boring… scroll back slowly and think again… the tightly composed shot of the middle-aged men in hats, heads down, uncommunicative, one with his nose in a newspaper, the others either writing on or consulting folded pieces of paper — or are those racing forms? — a solemn assembly of punters, perhaps, each out for himself, preserved for posterity on a close-cropped stretch of lawn, with a picket fence marking the limits of their freedom, preventing them from wandering into the void beyond, I say, that snapshot, especially, conveys a Hopperesque feeling of human existential aloneness in a crowd that deepens the mystery of everyday life despite the fact that the effect is, almost certainly, entirely unintentional…

BONUS IMAGES (added 20 October 2013):


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