New book explores the beauty of human connection through merged old photographs

If lockdown taught us anything, it was the value of human connection, particularly physical connection. For the first time in all our lives, something as simple as a hug, a handshake or a kiss on the cheek was forbidden. As the saying goes, you don't know how much you've lost until it's gone. So it's not surprising that artists are now celebrating the beauty of human connection and how we've all missed it.

A new limited-edition art book and website, We Were Only Inches Away, takes this theme and runs with it, in an inventive and thoughtful way. This collection of images is crafted from found photographs and family archives, cropped and arranged to create ambiguous and abstract compositions of people being together: hugging, kissing, shaking hands and dancing.

Hands, elbows, shoulders, legs, knees and hips come together as unlikely pairs, forming a compendium of body language and gestures. Casual photographic snaps become unintended documentation of physical contact and spontaneous connection. The collision of these moments reveal the beauty of human relationships and speaks to our longing for shared intimacy.

In book form, image spreads are physically interrupted and connected via the binding process. The photobook is beautifully printed on a collated set of loose sheets, bound by a single elastic band. The images are contextualised only by their assembled order and may be disassembled and recontextualised at will. For the website project, meanwhile, the viewer is offered the arrangement of images as a continuous stream of human connection.

The project is a collaboration between Sandie Don, who has a two-decade background in the film industry, and Mark Gowing, an artist, designer and book publisher. "Last year, we immersed ourselves in researching old and found photographs and the unguarded moments they offered," says Sandie. "Living through social distancing, we felt a loss when looking at analogue photographs and the ease of human contact they showed. So we decided to make something about it, and it became this book and website. As the images collide, they create new spontaneous physical connections. We hope the project says something about how we need each other and to cherish our time together."

Universal in reach, the project is about humanity and closeness, but also about our relationship to the camera. "The use of found photographs taken before the invention of digital photography captures unguarded gestures, offered once to the camera rather than perfected through numerous attempts. Unlike the immediacy of the digital image, analogue photography offers us a distance from the outcome that often, ironically, results in a greater sense of closeness when in the hands of the amateur photographer. The physical play of bodies portrayed in old photographs elicited an instant and honest emotional response; an uncomplicated sense of loss."

In short, the work functions as a kind of hindsight, visually discussing our humanity in the contemporary context, one most recently exacerbated by social distancing restrictions. "The work asks: who are we without each other? What is this contact we crave, and why is it so essential? We were aiming to salvage moments of missed intimacy through the detail of bodies in close proximity: a hand on a shoulder, a leg brushing a leg. These are the unsaid things that a telephone or video chat or social media channel can't replicate. This is our humanity."


Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly