A good friend sent me a link to a Telegraph gallery featuring images from the early 20th century. Almost 2 years ago, BBC4 aired its five-part series Edwardians in Colour. It gave the full treatment to an era distant for most but still within the memory and grasp of older generations.
When I see mainstream historicisation as this, I can’t help suspect (just a little) that it is done in order to define the times, facts and lessons of the era. Like all endeavours, it is a play of power (however unintentional). At face, Edwardians in Colour is a noble pedagogical effort and one trusts the BBC to handle the history responsibly. I am no post modernist – I don’t balk at all historical narratives – but I do shrink a little when the writing of history is clearly seen in documentary projects. I wonder if the construction of history in one place means the burying of history somepleace else. Is it the subtlest or the most dogmatic narratives that bed themselves into history? What happens when those with eye-witness testimony pass? Who determines the ‘facts’ of the past?
The Lumiere Brothers marketed the autochrome only a year before French banker and philanthropist, Albert Kahn began his own collection of history colour photography in 1908. Kahn called it the “Archive of the Planet.” The fact that these photographs are brought to us in colour brings us no closer to the times, but I would say they do bring us closer to an appreciation of time. It is a sad appreciation of time, just as the dwindling number of WW1 veterans at war memorials each Armistice Day are a poignant reminder of our dislocation from previous ages. History: How do you take yours? With distant awe or with confident conclusion?
Needless to say, the image above is foreign to us. Without struggle, I would add cultural remoteness to historical remoteness and utterly compound its ‘otherness’.