Zelda Zinn


The impetus for this body of work began while walking down cobblestone streets in Europe. Seeing marks left on walls, or grooves worn into stairs, I thought about the people, long departed, who had left evidence of their existence. Centuries earlier, they had occupied the same space I did now, yet there was no way to access them or the lives they led.

I began to collect old, discarded portraits. Lacking first hand knowledge of the subjects, I searched the photos for clues, making assumptions about the rather stiff people staring out in their Sunday best. The vocabulary of the 19th century was recognizable, yet impenetrable. The sideburns, hats and fobs were reduced to symbols of a time to which we had little insight. One could concoct stories or guess at their lives, but significance, whether implicit or explicit, has largely been lost to us through the intervening years.

I took these photos of people no longer alive, nor known to anyone still living, and collaged them with images that I shot. The new, combined pictures hint at our insurmountable distance from the past. I conceived of the time between their lives and ours in geological terms. The passing of time was akin to a gradual depositing layers that bit by bit obscured the subjects. I became acutely aware of entropy and how things show their age through disintegration. As I continued to work with these portraits, I began to think of the people as apparitions, floating spirits. The figures receded into the backgrounds or morphed into new shapes, freed from gravity and corporeality.

Interview with Zelda Zinn