How curious. There I was, thinking about wild flowers after my latest visit to the VRC, when up popped Lin Charlston’s adopted slide. Ragwort, coltsfoot and rosebay willowherb – such resonant names for these renegade colonisers of abandoned spaces. I, meanwhile, am pondering the fritillaria meleagris, otherwise known as the snakeshead fritillary. A more delicate variant of our native flora, the fritillary was once abundant in the wild, but changes in agricultural production after World War II destroyed much of its meadow habitat. The fritillary does not naturalise easily and is now rarely found in the wild, though it remains a popular garden flower.
Looking back through this blog, I am struck by how many people have responded, in spite of themselves, to images that carry them home. Not looking for them, but snagged unexpectedly on involuntary memory. The chance encounter, the serendipitous find, that only occurs when browsing, open-minded. Rajesh Patel expressed this beautifully in his choice of slide when he said ‘in order to stimulate creativity it is necessary to be distracted’. And maybe, in allowing this to happen, we learn a little something about ourselves.
I couldn’t wait for John to email me the photographs of my chosen slides, the pair of images shown above. But when I opened the files, I was disappointed. These wild flower pictures don’t reproduce so well in digital format. Something of their enduring fragility, so perfectly captured on slide film, is lost in the transformation from film to pixel.
But the originals… ah well. When I found them at the back of the cabinet, I was immediately captivated by the contrast of these tiny sheets of coloured film (so appropriate for their delicate subject matter) with the weight of their heavy plastic mounts. Holding each slide to the light felt like looking down a telescope. And at the end of the tunnel, so far away and yet so close, there is a tightly framed glimpse of my childhood, replete with 1970s colour cast, a faded rose pink that is somehow the temperature of the ‘76 heatwave. In fact, the grass is almost sepia. These are not 21st century fritillaries.
Of course, this isn’t a picture of August ’76. Fritillaries like moist earth, and they flower in May. I am mixing up my memories. But taken low down, the foreground scribble of grass and clover is carefully delineated by the camera. This is the sightline of a small child, hot, bored and alone, out of sight of the adults.
There is a whole sheet of these pictures in the filing cabinet. Coltsfoot and willowherb are probably there too. Are they reproductions from a book or a commercial slide set, made specifically for educational purposes? Are there other copies in collections elsewhere or is this the only one? It’s hard to tell. I must ask John.
PhD researcher and freelance curator
Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design