Granta 80: The Group

Pictures from Previous Lives
published Winter 2002

I have a stack of old issues of Granta, most of which I have not read, but which I very much intend to read someday. Doesn’t every real reader have stacks of someday books in the house? For this particular issue, someday finally arrived a week or so ago.

It makes me wonder if someday will come sooner for the other issues I have lying around. I like the idea of bits and pieces – essays, photographs, a story or two – collected in themes. (I can spot Ambition and Beasts up there on the shelf, waiting, along with Truth + Lies, and others whose print is too small to decipher even at a squint.)

I was drawn to this one now because I’ve been thinking more and more about photography (as well as trying to go out and shoot more as I learn my way around the new camera) and it seemed to offer completely different ways of thinking about photography. Most of the essays in this issue use an old snapshot as an object to spark memories and stories: they aren’t about the aesthetic, artistic, or theoretical implications of the image as an image.

There’s one piece that is almost all images, and one story where the image is pivotal but unseen. Contributors recall being arrested in South Africa, being unemployed and hanging out in England, becoming a published poet in Nigeria. There are snaps of white and black farmers in Zimbabwe, of family groups, of children in what many would call a cult. Images from a war and from a seminary in Tennessee. The issue, as Granta put it, is what happened when “writers take out their group photographs and remember the best and the worst.”

So the photographs here are triggers for the authors. If you are interested in vernacular (“found” photos) this issue will be of interest. If you are a photographer by hobby or vocation, this is a very different context to consider images in – that of personal reminiscence, not usually from the actual picture-taker – about images and what they mean.

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