Sidewalk stories [visual art]

{photos © Danielle Scruggs}

It was an African hand carved wooden statue (Yoruba origins, perhaps) that first caught my eye. I was walking down Rhode Island Avenue in D.C. when I saw it sticking out of a red plastic crate. Initially, I kept walking but something told me to go back. I turned on my heel, walked back, and that's when I saw them---four other crates packed with photo albums and dusty cardboard boxes containing hundreds of color slides. Most of the photos were taken in the mid to late 70s. I have no idea who the people are in these drugstore prints and slides; just that they're most likely musicians. Several of the slides and photos depict concerts and jam sessions in someone's living room.

I was only able to salvage a few of the boxes and the photo album. There were dozens of more binders filled with photos but I could only carry so much on my own. I was surprised and saddened to see these materials set out on the sidewalk like so much trash. Photos---especially original materials such as color slides---are invaluable resources. They're historical documents, really. A reminder of of the people, places and events of a certain era in time. They depict moments that will never happen again, that we will never get back. However, a photograph is a record of that instant that can last a lifetime---if one chooses to take care of it accordingly.

Oddly enough, I came across an article in my hometown alternative newspaper, The Chicago Reader, that relays a similar situation: a DJ, Dave Matos, found a warehouse filled with hundreds of negatives and prints by the barrier-breaking photojournalist Howard Simmons. Simmons documented the Civil Rights movement and also worked as a commercial photographer, shooting portraits of Michael Jordan when he was on the cusp of stardom.

Simmons said something in that article that completely fits with the cache I discovered on Tuesday:

"And then there are those moments when you don't realize what you've lost. When people find your images, like Dave did, and get them back to you. He brought back my past. You can't put a price tag on that."