Archive for the ‘Collecting’ Category

jocko_weylandSo I missed this, but artist/writer Jocko Weyland had a show earlier this Spring at Kerry Schuss in NYC called “Almost News.” Wayland works for the AP NewsPhoto Library, which gives him access to a torrent of images going back 100 years.  Many of them, detached from their original news story, beg for explanation.

The catalog copy for the show riffs on the AP archives filing system and the curiously poetic categories used to tame the often banal subject matter:

“Rolling open with a satisfying whoosh, the solid overstuffed drawers would reveal upright cardboard files whose condition ranged from crispy brand new to disintegrating scraps. “Schauffler, Jr;, William G. Col. Airforce D E A D 10/22/51,” for instance, on the Personality side, or on the Subject side: “Toys: Historical,” “Models: Ships and Submarines,” or “Portugal: Industry: Misc.” There were “Hands,” “Magicians and Mind Readers,” “Brushes,” and “Monocycles.” Everything was broken down into a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million different categories, subgroups, subsets, and variations. There were wild unfulfilled notions that had been photographed in the planning, the making, the testing, or the aftermath, curious pursuits, causes, philosophies, social issues, ideas, and adventures never dreamed of.”

The show was laid out with photos streaming in bands along the gallery wall — like racing stripes or lines on a highway.

There was a catalog published with the show, though I’m not sure if it’s still available.

I like the image “Stencil Lips” — for those moments when your hands just aren’t steady.


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This might look like a page from a J. Crew catalog, but in fact it’s a clever photographic experiment called “Sort” that appeals to the collector, the organizer as well as the photographer in me. Not to mention I love any excuse to group things visually by color (see Etsy, lynda, Crayola).

Paho Mann

Paho Mann

Paho Mann, a Texas-based photographer, took pictures of everything in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend Leigh, cataloging his own consumer tendencies. He then uploaded the images to a website and grouped them by object size, material, color, location, owner, use type, price, etc. Using dropdown filters, visitors can “rummage” through the “apartment,” peeking into closets and rooms, building a vague sense of who these people are by what they own.

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We tend to think of found photos as existing solely in the physical world, pieces of paper from the past covered with chemical emulsion and unknown faces, but the Internet opens up a whole new universe of vernacular photography where the images are less tangible, more ephemeral and free from the bonds of ownership. It’s a vast community-owned pool of pictures.

Sites are springing up that recognize this. As Found is an online gallery that curates groups of photos around themes. This image is from a group called Presidential runner-ups—a sad collection of all the also-rans in US history harvested from the Web. Other sets include handshakes, mechanical parts, albinos. Humor runs through all of these with a chuckle at our own banality. As the owners of the site declare: “Finding is creating.” Recognizing a pattern and naming it gives these images a previously unowned significance.

And take a look at Many Same and Secretly Creepy, too.

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wagner.jpgMost people view lightbulbs as mere functional objects. Catherine Wagner proves this wrong in her photographic catalog of these wonderful everyday glass sculptures (“A Narrative History of the Lightbulb“) that was on exhibit at Stephen Wirtz gallery earlier this year.

The Baltimore Museum of Industry invited her to document their prize collection of 50,000+ lightbulbs. She lines them up in colored palettes of greens, blues, metallic silvers and golds, as well as by shape—long and tubular, bulbous and round. She allows the viewer to forget the object and focus just on color, gradation and form.

Wagner is something of an archeologist, documenting the relics of our culture. Her series on the American classroom unearths a box full of frogs for dissection, a science lab with a collection of taxidermied animals—birds and bird wings, deer and deer antlers—arranged in a tapestry high on the wall. Wagner’s work often has a scientific slant; in her “Cross-Sections + Annotations” she photographs the cross-sections of plants, laying out pomegranate seeds, onions, and corn in exact geometrical formations, phalanxes of organic matter multiplied into an abstract pattern.

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frizot1.jpgI’ve been planning a small display of some of my found photos for a local café. Right now I’m puzzling over what to show and how to arrange it.

I think I’ve got just about every book published on found photography and I’ve been paging through them for inspiration. Each editor has a different organizational method. Some categorize images into themes—women, men, people eating, driving, relaxing, etc.

Others like Michel Frizot in Photo Trouvée use the random method in which images unreel with no narrative, no explanation whatsoever. I like Frizot’s haphazard, stream-of-consciousness editing which lets you, the viewer, make up your own mind what the photo is about. When you assign themes you’re taking away a viewer’s first impression.

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hughes.jpgAny photo project wrapped up with travel and travel memorabilia gets my attention immediately. Michael Hughes created a clever photo series called Souvenirs on Flickr in which he playfully shoots tourist attractions with a tourist tchotchke slyly inserted in the frame—at Cadillac Ranch a red toy Cadillac held in a fist lines up in perfect tilt with the real thing, or at the Tower of Pisa a young girl licks a tower-shaped popsicle, the icy treat outlined perfectly in front of the leaning monument. I discovered Hughes in File Magazine, an online “collection of unexpected photography.”

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reflection.jpgThis morning I spent two hours over at the Alemany Flea Market, sifting through old photos. Having done this for a few years now, I realize there’s an entire ritual and psychology around it.

I move through the stalls quickly, trying not to get distracted, eyes on the prowl for boxes with snapshots, vintage post cards or cabinet cards sticking out.

My heart beats a little faster if I find a booth where the owner obviously doesn’t care much about photos; he or she might have found a collection of snapshots in an estate sale and it gets thrown on the table with DVDs, silverware, and other orphaned junk. I’m always hopeful that maybe this pile hasn’t been picked over and a gem is waiting to jump out at me and that the price might be better than at a stand where the vendor has sorted and carefully arranged the pictures.

Once I’m hunched over a box, I lose sense of what’s around me, focused entirely on sifting, culling, passing over obvious “no’s” and scanning quickly for the “it” photo, the one that has that special something.

Then there’s the bargaining. I usually don’t want to pay more than a dollar. Anything more and the photo has to be worth it. This morning, I found a handful. This is one of my favorites from today’s hunt.

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