Kyler Zeleny : Found Polaroids
We’ve all been there. Sitting in a musty basement, maybe a garage, digging through an old family photo album that was happened upon during a spring cleaning marathon, or while packing up to move house. I myself have been known to disappear for hours while sifting through the physical encapsulations of my most cherished memories, forgotten histories, and deepest nostalgia. This submerssive nature of old photographs is the reason why, now that I live far from those boxes of Bennett family photos, I still collect found photographs from estate sales and flea markets. It pains me to think of these stranger’s photographs – their memories and histories – floating around, separated from the context of their creation.
Luckily, we haveKyler Zeleny to provide these lost images with a renewed purpose. In 2015 he launched the Found Polaroids Project; a curated selection of Polaroid photographs paired with publicly-generated short stories. Zeleny’s book, Found Polaroids, published by Aint-Bad Editions, is comprised of a selection from the 6,000 image archive Zeleny has collected since 2011, and features essays by Kyler himself as well as Dr. Peter Buse and a preface by Dr. Lisa Jaye Young. The invitation Zeleny poses for this project is straightforward- re-contextualize a found Polaroid with a short fictional story about its subject or the situation it portrays. The ask is simple but the effect is profound. Not only are forgotten images reinvigorated with entirely new histories, but Zeleny also generates space for open-source creative exercise. In a time when artistic practice relies heavily on networking and business savvy its refreshing to discover a free and open forum dedicated to collaboration, imagination, and storytelling for writers of any age or ability. This project presents a way for photographs and text to intermingle and converse, free from the constraint of authorship, a playful endeavor into humanity and memory that serves to, in Zeleny’s words, mirror our own reality.
The stories for the images featured in this article, as well as instructions for submitting a story of your own can be found here.
Kyler Zeleny (1988) is a Canadian photographer-researcher and author of Out West (2014) and Found Polaroids (2017). He received his masters from Goldsmiths College, University of London, in Photography and Urban Cultures. His work has been exhibited internationally in 12 countries. He is a founding member of the Association of Urban Photographers (AUP), a guest editor for the Imaginations Journal for Cross-Cultural Image Studies and a guest publisher with The Velvet Cell. Kyler currently lives in Toronto, where he is a doctoral candidate in the joint Communication and Culture program at Ryerson and York University.
Found Polaroids is project that was started in 2011 and has grown to a personal archival collection of over 6000 Polaroid images. The concept behind the project is to breathe new life into these long-forgotten images by asking creative minds to write stories about them. The project simply asks for 250-350 word flash-fiction submissions; not of who these people are but who they could have been. The project has since become a hub of collaboration with photographers, writers and academics that advocate for the cultural importance of material photography and found photography. Much of this exchange and collaboration has come about through digital pathways and is part of the material turn facilitated by online exchanges.
What makes this collection so unique is that most are entirely candid and were captured by someone who had a personal relationship with the subjects of the picture. In that sense, each comes coupled with a story that can really only be told by those in front of or behind the camera – but these stories have been lost. Initially, we were fixated on knowing the true stories, and then slowly it dawned on us that the importance of stories is not always in their actual truth, but rather in the truth that is reflected in our own lives within these stories. A really great story is simply one that holds a mirror up to our own reality.
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