Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past

Ransom Riggs's hobby is to collect "vernacular images of weddings and funerals, family vacations, backyard forts, first days of schools," pictures that have been "dumped into... communal graves of a sort." He especially likes how these gothic photos spring to life when accompanied by captions. Often a stranger's writing transforms the banality of the photo into something close to art: a blurred image of a rocky wall flanking a forlorn road is inscribed with this sentence: "Rock wall near Rose Bowl, Pasadena Cal where Dorothy found a Baby Girl on Jan 24, 1961."

Car accidents, infectious diseases and untimely deaths are recorded off-handedly, as if their very announcement keeps terror at bay. Tragic yet defiant, these captioned images represent a sustained dialogue between the dead and the living, evoking "I Died for Beauty" by Emily Dickinson: "And so, as kinsmen met a night/ We talked between the rooms/ Until the moss had reached our lips/ And covered up our names." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine 

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