“It’s our biggest subject by far,” Lee Shulman says of the Anonymous Project’s vast collection of Christmas photos. “It’s when the cameras come out.” Schulman created the photography archive earlier this year in Paris, partnering with his friend Emmanuelle Halkin, with the idea to gather important photographed moments in people’s lives — weddings, baptisms, birthdays, graduations, any kind of milestone captured on film. The digitized catalogue now contains several hundred thousand images that function like a time capsule. As pictured in the holiday gallery above, families built snowmen, hung Christmas trees with silver tinsel, and dined in their best outfits — but also, they made weird faces and annoyed each other in front of the camera, maybe like your family over the holidays.
Shulman and Halkin focus exclusively on finding slide film, also known as color-reversal film. Slideshow viewings were a favorite family pastime in the 1960s and ’70s, a sit-down affair in which people essentially gave friends a PowerPoint presentation of their vacation photos — they projected the slides onto a wall or screen and clicked through them, image by image. About 80 percent of the Anonymous Project’s archive is culled from the U.S., where slides were affordable and readily available from Kodak.
The Anonymous Project’s visuals are collected, conserved, and catalogued in a database, and the best photos are featured on their website. Shulman and Halkin buy slides at flea markets or through eBay or leboncoin (the French equivalent of Craigslist). People all over the world donate slides to the project as well, often because they don’t know what to do with the vintage materials. Sometimes the slides are sent in randomly, without notes; other times, moving personal details are scribbled on the images. As a collection, the photos hint at trends of their time — from tiki soirées to portraits of pets to people posing in front of new cars. The images also reveal social inequalities, particularly racial and gender disparities: Women and white middle-class families are pictured most prominently; men were most often their family’s designated picture-takers.
As a nonprofit initiative, the Anonymous Project exists as a portal into what its co-founders call “collective memory.” The subjects in each image are unknown, nameless in a way that highlights the universal nature of photography. Click through the photos in the slideshow ahead.
An exhibition featuring a selection from the Anonymous Project archives (anonymous-project.com) will be on view next year at the Espace Beaurepaire in Paris, from January 23 to February 24, 2018, before traveling to London.