My photographs tell the story of Sylvia DeWolf Ostrander (1841-1925). Her tale begins with remnants of a life left behind in a small trunk that was abandoned for garbage on a New York City street. A photograph of two girls with tightly-braided hair and rosy cheeks, dressed in mourning, staring solemnly from the past as if inviting me to find them; torn pieces of wallpaper left as reminders about the rooms they once decorated; an invitation with a faded silk ribbon dated 1860 for a ball honoring the Prince of Wales… these are but a few of the fragments of what remains from her life.
As an obsessive detective, I retrace Sylvia's footsteps back to the past. I wander the streets of Rhode Island and New York where she once walked, visit the homes where she once slept, and spend hours lost in archives surrounded with ephemera from the past. I found her living great-granddaughter who has a large steamer trunk filled with Sylvia’s century old dresses that remarkably fit me. It also contains correspondence chronicling a precarious love story with a Civil War soldier, the final letters written by her mother who died of consumption in 1866 and journals where a young Sylvia penciled in a single sentence about each of her days. There are also photographs of Sylvia as a young woman, whose likeness spookily resembles my own.
I use all of these primary materials to subjectively re-tell the story of Sylvia’s life.
My photographs are an imaginary time machine. They are born in a space I have to come to know as no-when. No-when takes place in the 19th century and the present, but no-when also does not take place in the 19th century and the present. No-when never exists.