Have you ever looked at old family photos and wished you could be there? Share a gin and tonic with your great aunt on that awful floral couch — or find out what your dad and his buddies were laughing at? If you look closely at this photo (and only if you look really, really closely), you might notice that something is ... off. One person is not quite like the others.
Photographer Bootsy Holler first showed me this photo in person. It was in a little black-page photo album, served with a magnifying glass. I looked at it. She looked at me. I looked at it again. And she waited patiently for my reaction. I probably said something like, "Um, your family seems lovely?"
It wasn't until I saw the next photo that I realized what was happening.
Holler is known among her siblings as the one who likes "old stuff." She has a big collection of vintage clothing — some of which belonged to her maternal grandmother, who was a seamstress. She's also the one who safeguards the family photos.
And it was during a photography class — while working on a self-portrait assignment — when she had the idea to combine the photos and the wardrobe. Holler found a snapshot she liked, picked an outfit from the same era, made a self-portrait — and, with the magic of Photoshop, went time-traveling to visit the woman who made the clothes: her grandmother Ruby.
"My connection to her is really just through the fact that I have very similar skills to her — like the hands-on sewing skills," Holler says. "I feel a connection to her even though she passed away when I was 7 or 8."
Holler's series, Visitor, contains about 20 such instances of time travel — family photos in which she has inserted herself and sometimes her son. Her appearance changes in each photo — both her age and her looks — although in her mind, she is always just herself. In one photo, she's her mother's age. They look like they're ready to go to a sock hop. Maybe they're friends. Maybe they're sisters. In another photo, her mother is just an infant — and Holler looks on with her son.
It looks easier than it is. For each photograph, Holler has to position herself in a way that would naturally fit the scene. The lighting has to be perfect — as do the proportions. To say nothing of the sartorial selection. And up until now she has only explored her mother's black-and-white photos. Next she plans to start visiting her father's side of the family. And eventually, she'll go back to the future and dig into the color albums.
It's fun to imagine hanging out with her younger parents. But, Holler says, the project is just as much about spending time with them now — and gleaning stories about her family history that she would otherwise never know.
"It's opened up this whole relationship with my mom, about who these people are and the stories that go along with them. And, you know, we just don't do that anymore," she says. "You don't just sit and talk about stories anymore in photos."