A photography exhibit opening Dec. 9 at Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, “All That Remains,” reflects on the impermanent nature of memory. Photographer Richard Hollant said the theme fits his own transitory recollections of the photos he took, as well as the medium he used to capture the images.
“They stopped making Polaroid film years ago. You can buy it from people who bought it back then, but it’s past its expiration date. There is no guarantee it will still work,” Hollant said. “The more enamored I get with Polaroid, the more I find its ephemeral nature. It has a feeling of ‘that too will pass’.”
What also “will pass” is Hollant’s recall of the experiences he captured on film. “My memory fades a lot. It’s inconsistent and unreliable,” he said. “These photos are all that remain of those moments.”
He said he feels the need to “check in on” the images every now and then to remember the place, the time, the minutiae he can’t quite grasp. “I remember the feelings I had at those moments. It’s with the details that I get mixed up,” he said. “So I adjust the images to fit the feelings.”
Hollant emphasizes this transmogrification of specifics into emotions by printing the small Polaroid negatives onto massive sheets of paper, rendering central images grainy and indistinct. The chemicals in the negative, which have crystallized over time, enlarge flaws in the image and obscure small details.
A seemingly mundane image of radiators stacked outside a ramshackle shop, for example, recalls intense feelings in Hollant.
“My friend was living in Massachusetts. He had pancreatic cancer and was in hospice care. We were rushing up there and we got stuck in a massive traffic jam. We were stuck outside this radiator shop without moving for what seemed to be an eternity. So I took a picture,” Hollant said. “By the time we got there, Charley was gone. He was no longer lucid.”
Looking at another image, Hollant recalls the admiration he felt for one of his late wife’s students. Karen Hollant worked as a vocational training manager at American School for the Deaf in West Hartford. She created the Deaf Spirit Club for people both visually and hearing impaired. Laura was one student.
“Karen created the club to arrange social excursions, to cut down on the impact of isolation they felt,” Hollant said. “Laura was having a hard time understanding what was happening in the bowling alley. But you could tell she felt it. It made me think of all the work it takes to experience things that the rest of us take for granted.”
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. was the site of another image. While most see a rhinoceros, Hollant sees his son, who was diagnosed at a young age with neurofibromatosis.
“We would go to the National Institutes of Health once a year, where he would see specialists, physicians, experts. He spent the entire day being poked and prodded, given an MRI. Then he was allowed to step out and be a kid,” Hollant said. “We went to the museum one of those times. I think about him when I see the sensitivity of the beast, his toughness.”
Many of the photos have one thing in common: Hollant never went to that place again. “They were taken in the moment and then the moment was gone,” he said. “I want to believe what is significant about these photos are buried within the image. I see new things whenever I look at them.”
Hollant, of West Hartford, is the chair of the City of Hartford’s Commission on Cultural Affairs. He also is principal and design director at CO-LAB advertising agency and runs the Free Center on New Britain Avenue in Hartford.
“All That Remains: Life/Study/Photographs by Richard Hollant” will open Dec. 9 at Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave. in Hartford, and run to Jan. 13. The gallery will be closed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2. charteroakcenter.org. richardhollant.com.
Susan Dunne can be reached at [email protected].