New Photographs – Journal Portraits

by Bonnie Tate

Here are three photographs from a new series I’m working on – for now I’ll call them journal portraits. My idea is to make pictures based on old diary entries – not my own – but stranger’s…

A few years ago, when I lived in Memphis, I found a woman’s diary in a thrift store. It was such a surprising thing to find on a shelf, on sale for .75 cents, that I took it home and read the whole thing. The diary spans the first six months of 1982, beginning when she meets a man named  Joel and ending with their breakup. Clearly she started the diary with the purpose of writing about her relationship, but what’s striking is the indirect way in which she does it. She meticulously notes whether Joel called or not and how much time they spent together each day.  But it’s everyday chores and dinner menus that cover the pages. I read on, waiting for some emotion, romance, or an event of some kind, but either it never happened or she didn’t write about it. For me, this made for a read that was both boring and compelling! I knew that on the next page something would be revealed – but nothing was.

As a journal keeper myself I found this confusing. Wouldn’t she want to write about the important stuff, the troubling stuff, the best and the worst? My favorite part of keeping a journal is reading over it later and seeing what still matters and what seems silly. Most things don’t matter anymore, or at least in the same way they did when I wrote about them, and that’s comforting. But after reading a few more diaries I know that people write for different reasons – that’s part of what’s interesting.

With each picture I am selecting elements from an entry and creating a little scene that alludes to what’s written on the page. I want to include the handwritten page itself in the picture because it gives a personal feel, that has something to do with the moment of writing just for yourself.

I hope to be able to show a range of entries – thoughts from people of different personalities and periods of time, from the banal to the more profound.

This project may be pretty slow going  – diaries are (understandably) hard to find. Anyone care to make a donation?! I will post photos as I make them and would love any thoughts or feedback.