And Now for Something Really Disturbing

Do you ever do something and then doubt your sanity? For years I’ve been collecting family images. I find them at the Virginia Historical Society, Library of Congress, old books, a shoebox from my grandmother, and ask for photos of portraits hanging in a relative’s foyer. So far, so good. This might be obsessive, but certainly productive. Everything was working perfectly. I’d find an image of Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill, attach it to a short bio, and voila, another leaf on the tree was articulated. In some instances, I could only find someone in a group photo such as the crew team at Harvard in 1914. But that was fine, as long as I could point out the right person.

Then something changed. Working on this one night after a rather grueling day and a couple of ginescas (Tanqueray and Fresca), I slipped into a disturbing place. I fixed the levels and color of the image, and then replaced my relative with a picture of myself. Okay, scary, I know. Then it seemed to become a bizarre art project. It’s not as easy as it seems. Modern lighting and cameras are very different than an image taken in 1880. Now it hasn’t gotten so bad that I’ve started recreating the lighting and shooting new images to drop in (although I did consider it). I can justify this in a couple of ways: first, I’m learning Photoshop techniques; second, it’s a “Cindy Sherman in history” art project. But I’m pretty sure this points to a tragic desire to retreat into the past.