I have mixed thoughts and feelings about photographs of the people I find, an odd ambivalence about wanting to solve whatever mystery is behind their existence and hoping I never do. Without a photo, they are a little more mysterious. I collect the photographs, nevertheless, because that’s what I do, perhaps all I do in the end. I record my findings. I witness.
In those cases where I have contacted or met with family and friends, I never ask for photographs. It seems to cross some line I don’t understand but is clear to me. I sometimes have what I call “grave robber’s guilt,” invading their lives for no real reason, at least no reason that most people would understand. So the photographs I collect come from the public record. More often than not, this means the photograph that accompanied their obituary. In some cases, I have a greater selection, an author photo from a book jacket, pictures from an autobiography, publicity photos or photos taken by journalists. I think I prefer not having a choice about which photograph I want to share, but when I do have a choice, I try to choose a photo, maybe two, that has some ring to it, a ring of truth about both their fabled life and the life they’ve just lived.
So once again, despite my effort to conduct objective research, I find myself trusting a subjective inclination I cannot describe without resorting to euphemisms.