The Anonymous Project: secret snapshots of family life

The Anonymous Project: secret snapshots of family life

An intimate archive — Lee Shulman’s love for amateur photography has seen him amass a collection of 800,000 slides, taken over the past 70 years. But despite their age, the images depict moments all of us recognise. ‘It’s the imperfections that make them so endearing,’ he says.

The Anonymous Project began with an innocuous purchase on eBay. Having always found the imperfect nature of amateur photography somewhat endearing, filmmaker Lee Shulman decided – spontaneously – to buy a collection of 35mm Kodachrome slides online.

When the set eventually arrived at his front door, Shulman discovered that it consisted of anonymous family photos, taken over 70 years ago. With each slide, he found himself transfixed, learning more and more about the family in question. It didn’t take long for him to realise that he’d struck gold. “The intimate nature of the images are just extraordinarily emotional, powerful and touching,” he remembers. “I was instantly hooked.”

Having settled on the aforementioned title for the project, he built a website and began posting the images online, where they proved an instant hit. Just over two years later, and Shulman has amassed an archive of 800,000 slides.

“I think that we can see ourselves in many of these images, and though they come from another time we have all shared these type of moments of family life,” he says. “It’s the imperfections that make them so endearing. These moments of unadulterated life, caught in stunning Kodachrome, is what makes them so unique.”

A new exhibition, titled The House, sees Shulman collaborating with Emmanuelle Halkin to illustrate the timelessness of his collection. Showing at Les Rencontres d’Arles, it hones in on the domestic lives of those depicted. “The intimate nature of the images gives us a privileged look into the ordinary lives of family life – that’s what makes them so fascinating.” 

Be it couples sneaking a kiss on the sofa, or a relative reciting a joke at an extended gathering, the scenes captured in The Anonymous Project radiate warmth. For Shulman, it’s about immortalising the moments that we often take for granted: ones of shared humanity, where everyone is together.

“When I look at these images I feel that all these people pictured are part of my extended family,” Shulman says. “This collective memory belongs to us all and its so precious. In a time where divisions and politics are driving people apart I hope that we can reflect on what its means to be part of one big family.”

For more information on The Anonymous Project, visit the official website 

The House is showing at Les Rencontres d’Arles until 22 September, 2019. A book, published by Taschen, is coming soon. 

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