Found in South Africa when a woman tilling her field sat on it by accident, later sold to Harry Winston, it was shipped via the United States Postal System. The Two in the picture, a team of Postal Inspectors had the honor of receiving it and transporting it to Harry Winston in NYC. Harry took advantage of the best and lowest price escort by insuring it via the US Mail, but that’s not what this story is about.
It is about the importance of archiving photography, for a future we can’t see now and not judging what has or doesn’t have value.
On route to Harry. they stopped to check in at their office and another inspector there asked them to stop and pose for a quickie Polaroid. A fast snap taken to show the folks back home, me included who at the time was a young photographer with my bathroom darkroom setup and my new MamyiaRB67 . It was another assignment in my dad’s work but one that needed some extra copies to send to the rest of the family. The original must have been 3×4 apprx. and he asked if I could make a copy. I did and a few negatives at that. I stored them in an archival glassine, gave one to them and filed the others.
35 years later, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC wanted to dedicate a section to the Postal System and its great Postal Inspection Department. Also known as a secret service that took no credit for the myriad of cases both local and international, it gave away the accolades to the other departments that enforce the law. Its history is rich and its reputation among the inside law enforcers and breakers was outstanding. They were the final word…FEDERAL.
The Smithsonian searched for a definitive picture that would speak for the whole of who they are and after many thousands of edits stumbled on this one long gone faded Polaroid but from a print done from the copy neg, chose this. With today’s better equipment. I scanned and cleaned negative and gave them a reproducible file to turn into this card,calendar, and permanent display in the museum.
Often we pass over many images that we deem as no real value. In our haste we discard or misplace the many images, particularly in today’s digital world seeing them as non-important,a happy snap,something that we don’t even consider. This one thirty some years ago could have been just that…a ” hey guys, look aver here” and time would have moved on as this would have faded away. Luckily it didn’t. It, while who knew then, now belongs and is part of history.
From this point of view, we are more than jsut photographer, we are the in a way the gaurdians of history, no matter how big or small the events we record. To that end, our responsibility to the future is our approach to the present and what we do as photographers, happy snaps or major works takes on a different meaning.