... on the crooked sidewalk: an ashtray, two napkin rings, a silver cup, three spoons, a knife, and those people throwing me sideward glances, twisting necks, heads kept down.
Pitiful knights, kings, queens, and princesses on molding cardboard, from who knows where?
Probably old photos pulled from a box lying some city garret, hastily dumped and put out to be sold.
Miserable things, on which a bored child – it is impossible for the graffiti not to have come from an innocent hand – had taken a pen to adorn certain heads with grotesque, clumsy hats, like some people jokingly draw mustaches on postcards of the Mona Lisa, only here, the originals themselves were being defaced.

The summer night fell gently over Cambridge.
The scene was pitiful.
Squatting on the pavement near the gutter, I got a closer look at proud heads, luminous faces, and sharp, sparkling eyes that seemed to defy time as they surged forth on cards of yellowed paper.
Alas! Oblivion seemed to have already preceded their definitive destruction, amidst the sweeps of the gutter, among the grinders of the recycling plant that treats the urban waste of Boston.
There were three young lovelies, shoulder to shoulder, in several copies, a souvenir of a former Labor Day, as it said in sketchy script on the back of the photograph.
Like in poker, I automatically raked in the cards.
My hand held an old man, a venerable pioneer, most likely a citizen of Maine, according to the photographer’s signature at the bottom of the card; young smooth-skinned men with a glint in their eye that seemed to peer into a promising future.
Others who had meticulously prepared for the photograph, with conquering mustaches, glossed hair, an elegant vest and jacket, the silk tie knotted with a dapper, silver-headed pin beneath a starched collar.
A severe-looking aunt or mother, dressed in what looked like a high-buttoned dress, carefully sewn from thick, rustic cloth. All were framed just beneath the shoulders against a solid background. The photographer had taken the picture using a 4x5 inches camera and had probably set a device in front of the lens to obtain an “artistic” blur at the base of the portrait, from which the body seemed to progressively emerge, to reach the perfection of the visage where the focus was sharpened.
Sometimes, dates appear on the back and on the photography studio advertisements.
Because of the era, they were "black and white" photos but they had been treated in sepia that, over time, as the document yellowed, had blended into subtle shades to resemble color proofs in soft, faded hues.
I gathered up all of the cards, stood and paid the sardonic young vendor the ransom of a few dollars he nonchalantly demanded to liberate these effigies from their miserable fate.
I was sad. How could these pioneers – for those of us from the Old Continent, all Americans, today or yesterday, are still pioneers – who, through their attitudes in these images illustrate and powerfully express their trust in their destiny, in a future they are striving to build, how could they be so negligently sent to the trash?
They were only pictures, certainly. We are submerged in pictures!
Magazines and beautiful, glossy-papered books are filled with picturesque photos of landscapes and ancestors, of pioneers in front of log cabins or patrician villas, in thousands of copies, whose consumption and unavoidable disappearance interest no one.
Yet, there was a mystery here. What was this reunion of identically formatted and, in a way, well-preserved portraits, doing in a Boston gutter?
For a century, did someone or several people take care of these portraits ? Or were they forgotten in an attic after the death of one of the young ladies they feature, who had grown elderly, leaving the memory of these Bostonians to an eventual posterity?
A sort of message in a capsule. A bottle thrown into time, for an encounter that is desired, although improbable!

Regardless, the encounter took place and I do not know why; I could not, nor did I want to refuse this duty of memory to a world that was foreign to me.
Confusedly, without knowing how, I felt that I should pay homage to these anonymous pioneers of another era.
That was nearly fifteen years ago.
Back in my studio, I tried to find a way to make these little effigies monumental.
Since I was working with a technique using photography and acrylic paint on various materials, I began making enlargements of the portraits on a highly contrasted graphic arts medium, that I fastened onto the big frame canvas. The faces seemed to drown in a layer of rough paint. I wanted to accompany these images with a volume which, placed in perspective with the canvas, would symbolically introduce a time depth.
I made sketches of slender columns.
I mounted one with a metallic silhouette which, unconsciously and despite the obvious – I realized later – was the transposition of the Antique Kouroi; the commemorative statues produced in Attica around the 6th century to honor the dead by idealizing them.
It is true that these portraits are disturbing. Like the Greek statues, through the supposed “objectivity” of the technique, they are an idealization of their subject. A snapshot meant to confer a youthfulness, a presence, an eternal power to the moment.
I felt as if the man or woman (my assumption leans to the latter, as there is something maternal in the act) who had kept these portraits together – to the exclusion of any other photograph – had actually turned these ancestors into heroes rather than merely conserving some family souvenirs.
I presented two of these "memory portraits" in separate exhibits but they left me dissatisfied. Removed from their context and isolated, the portraits lacked the monumental aspect that the initially foreseen accumulation had given them. I also realized that, in attempting to honor these pioneers, I had used antique traditions and that, in doing so, instead of causing them to accompany us, I had established them as icons of the memory of Boston, as definitively absent “heroes”.
I stored the huge portraits against a studio wall and the sketches fell asleep in a drawer!
Many events have occurred in the last ten years. I have also abandoned certain techniques.
Computer technology provided me with different ways of resolving the problems in superimposing the photograph and pictorial matter.
And then, I could spend more time in the sunlight rather than spending long hours locked up in the darkroom!
Carefully wrapped and stored in a shoebox on the top library shelf, the Bostonians waited!
I did not forget them! Their expressions continued to compel me and I visited them often.
By now they had become old acquaintances, like friends we are used to seeing, whom we greet affectionately but whom we do not really look at, until one day when they shave off their mustache or straighten their nose!
Nothing of the sort took place inside the shoebox but, still, there was light!
Those faces bathed in light; the daylight of the 1890’s!
Daylight and probably in summertime – there was no artificial lighting in turn-of-thecentury photography studios.
The “operators” as they were called, were able to capture this light to enhance their model, highlighting gentleness, friendship or passionate determination.

A portrait of the soul, a theatrical message addressed to a boy or girlfriend and, unconsciously, like a challenge to the future and to passing time.
I realized that there were also artists behind the logos, addresses and beribboned advertisements on my tarot cards.
Perhaps they had even worked with brushes and become masters in the art of shadow and light?
What other explanation can there be: the subtle organization of the magnificent portrait1of this young woman taken from a three-quarter angle and the mysterious luminosity that suffuses the same model2 in another shot – probably photographed by the same artist in the studio “Chas N. DENAULT, in Watertown – Main Street – Over Otis Bros - Mass.”, as indicated on the back of the gold edged calling card amidst moss colored Oriental-like graphics?
My friends, in a way, who led me by the hand through the years and invited me to meet their portraitists!
It occurred to me that I could perhaps see them as well, those artists and their antique camera boxes, in the mirror of their eyes?
In vain, I increased the definition and enlargement. The shimmering iris was revealed but the reflection of light kept its secrets.
Another quest began!
I will return to Boston this summer, I will explore the city and its area. Perhaps I will come upon traces of these artists, of their studios, a few clues in the old addresses in Watertown, Newton, or Waltham and perhaps I will travel further on, all the way to Medfield, Foxcroft, and Augusta in the Maine from where my family of Bostonians seems to originate?
If all clues are gone, probably swept away by the upheavals of a century, I will go and bask in the light that still escapes from the shoebox on the top shelf, between that dandy Henry James and my dear Emily Dickinson.

Lys, May 2005

Starting with the photos taken at the time, I used computer technology to transcribe the portraits of these Bostonians with their old colors onto large dimension media.
The series of 33 Portraits in a minimum format of 17’’ x 22”
1 Portrait N°001
2 Portrait N°008

H.Alexis Delord