The 1953 Project – concept

The concept for this project is perhaps best explained by reproducing here the email letter I sent to all my Facebook friends on Sunday, 19.6.2011.  See also the comment at the very bottom, added a few days later.

The 1953 project

Dear friends,

My ‘new’ Rolleiflex camera, a gift from a friend in June 2011, was made (I think!) in about 1954, almost 60 years ago – so it is about 15 years older than I am.  If at 60 I work as well as it does, I’ll be very happy!  The camera’s longevity and the many unknown images it has taken before coming to me represent its past – distant and impossible to know.  But I would like to bridge the gap between the camera’s past and my present, and I would like your help to do this.  I am calling this ‘The 1953 project’.

When I think of photo albums from the 1950s and earlier in my own family, they often seem to consist of stiffly posed portraits of seated individuals, some of whose names are now barely remembered by my parents’ generation.  I would like to create a photo album, but one that is marked by the (supposedly) increased connectivity of our present time that a tool such as Facebook embodies.  As I write this, I have precisely 100 Facebook friends, and I would hope a good many of you might be open to this idea.

Using the Rolleiflex with black and white film I’d like to make one portrait image of as many of my Facebook friends as possible, and then compile these photographs into an album in which your name and one element of our connection to one another is recorded in about 10 words (it is not meant to be an essay!).  If you’d like to be involved in this project, then it is open in part to your own interpretation:

  1. I want you to choose the location for the photograph.  This could be your home, garden, a cafe, a street… (anywhere that I can easily get to);
  2. I want you to write the ‘connection-text’ mentioned above.

With you choosing the place and the ‘connection text’, my photo album will be a (re-)creation of a traditional collection of photographs, but I hope that it will also carry more of an interactive element with you, the subjects of my photography.

Unsurprisingly, I want to start with friends nearest to me, in Edinburgh, in Scotland, and where possible, develop opportunities for those of you who do not live near to me as time goes by.  I’m aware that this is not straightforward if we are divided by continents!

As would have been the case in 1953, I will make just one image of you (no digital “scatter shooting”) – and trust that that one shot is good enough for the album.  Regarding poses: as I recall, many of the photographs in my family’s albums are of people sitting outside (presumably to benefit from the better light), but if you would prefer to be indoors (and can sit still for what might be several seconds depending on the light), that is also fine.

Although I’ll probably put these images on my website and perhaps also try and have (some/all of) them wall-mounted, the primary collection will eventually be in a real photo album/book.  I’d like to do all this before the camera’s “birthday” in 2013 comes along, which in reality means I have little over a year to make the photographs and compile them.  If you’re interested, here is an image of a similar version of my camera:

If you think this might be a project you’d like to participate in, please do get back in touch with me. Although this is sent on Facebook’s messaging system, I’d much prefer a normal email or a telephone call.  Please do not ‘reply all’ to this message, as I’m sending it to several people at once!

Finally, thank you for taking the time to read all this, and I do hope you’ll get back to me about the ‘1953’.

Best wishes,


One of the people I wrote to was Alastair Cook, astonishing photographer and filmmaker, who – based on a recent project he undertook – strongly recommended I take two shots of everyone.  This is partly to compensate for the ‘oh no, I blinked’ moments that will inevitably occur, partly in case I mess up for some reason (he put it more kindly than that), and partly to do with variables beyond my control, but given that physically meeting some people will involve considerable travel and expense for me, he suggested two shots would be better.  I agree with him, and so I’ll be aiming for two images of every person who wants to be photographed, and I’ll then choose the best one of the two.

Click here to go back to the main page for The 1953 Project.