Musings on Time and Place: The Marriott C. Morris Collection

What is it about these evocative images, that they impel an almost automatic response: the relaxed, unfocused gaze of remembrance and daydreams?

Perhaps that is what draws me to these images. They float into the present moment like a vapor. They speak in a whisper, both ephemeral and urgent, about something half-remembered, half-dreamed. They inspire questions and musings about our experience of place, both past and present.

Morris’s photographs are full of mystery, lost language, and people long gone from this earth.  A ghostly trace of a shadow drifts past the woman. What draws the boy’s gaze?  Yet the stark geometry of the landscape provides a familiar anchor, a connection to the here and now.  By uniting earth, sea, and sky into a sharp point, Morris creates a composition that is timeless and universal, at least on our Earth.  It’s an instantly recognizable expression of place: the seaside.

His photographs are composed with deliberation, and these mute, “permeable” images have a strong voice that carries through time. I like to think of them as encoded transmissions. Most came into the collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia in the form of glass-plate and film negatives, essentially unintelligible and inaccessible. Through the mediums of light, paper, and digital imaging, images of past-place have been decoded.

Only partly decoded though. These photographs give rise to musings about communication, context, and the transmission of ideas. A common enough sight in the late 19th-century, but to describe them in words today would require a fair bit of historical research. What is the term for that particular form of boat, or the meaning behind the symbols on the flags?  What are they saying to us, humankind, in the 21st century?

Through the process of digitizing the negatives, the effect of time is revealed in the imprint. In some cases creating an unintended conceptual overlay to Morris’s images.  The cracked, curled, and missing emulsion reads as a patterned web that obscures the view, just as time obscures memory, and so it goes. These images, and the thoughts they provoke about place and the passage of time, serve as both fingerpost and inspiration for my visual art.

Beyond the donation of images, the Morris Family has generously, and wisely, provided the funds required for the digitization and record-level cataloging of the entire collection, work undertaken by Project Assistant Alison Van Denend. The artist continues to speak through this collection which is now accessible to everyone here. I am grateful!

Andrea Krupp, Conservator
Library Company of Philadelphia

August 2015