Sunday, September 07, 2003

  "The swift drop to the floor signaled eager forces into play: gravity was the trigger, clay and shape the material, the loving hand that shaped the bowl-had unconsciously stored an unguessed form in it. With the crash transmutation worked, metamorphosis took a deep breath and an object found itself. The death of the bowl was the birth of an object."
-- Minor White

An undeniable mystique is connected with photographs from the times before ours. Even the plainest faded snapshots from the early decades of the 20th century and beyond command a glance marked by reverence and reverie. Old anonymous misplaced and displaced photos are no exception. Their adulation has spilled into an autonomous category of "found photography". The label isn't limited to aged images and is sometimes affixed to pictures as young as hours or days -- so long as they were spotted, picked up and retained by a stranger. But, I think, it is safe to venture that vintage "found" photographs hold indefinitely more enigmatic interest.
found by: Rob Philip from Deventer, The Netherlands. Kunst/antiek/curiosa shop, Noordwolde, The Netherlands, 2003

Timetales is one of several sites featuring a terrifically intriguing collection of photographs found in attics and flea markets of Europe and America. Thanks to the site authors' editing skills and taste, very many images here are far from ordinary. A lingering visit is a must. (via yasse.org)

found by: Ralph Schwarz from Mannheim, Germany. Second hand store Mannheim, Germany, 2003.

At over 300 found photographs, Look At Me is an imposing resource. While Timetales is tentatively sorted by periods, the entrails of Look At Me are arranged rather chaotically, making consecutive browsing pretty unnerving. It is rewarding nevertheless, thanks to pictures like this, that, and more.

found by: Elsbeth Volker from Deventer, The Netherlands. 2nd hand store, Groningen, The Netherlands, 2001. Found by Mitch O'Connell, Chicago, IL.

The photo section of Found Magazine features a slightly less inspiring collection of found imagery, most of which are color and date from the last century's mid decades.

The Mimosa compilation is impressive and thrilling. Its focus is everyday life in Russia of years past. It may not qualify as "found photography" per se, as the site's author makes a somewhat cryptic reference to featuring the work of "two professional photographers", without providing any other details.

For those with more than a passing curiosity in the subject, "The Found Photograph and the Limits of Meaning" by Prof. Barry Mauer may be a worthy read. In this essay he examines "the challenges posed to our sense-making apparatus by three stages in the life of "found photographs": their original context in the family photo album, their loss and discovery, and their recontextualization in the museum exhibit."

found by: Rob Philip from Deventer, the Netherlands. Gift from a friend - Sibiu, Romania, 2003

More examples and more rhetoric are offered in "Found Lives: A Collection of Found Photographs", a book by James Nocito.

Debatable and ticklish issues abound in the consideration of "found photography". Few gems destined for the world's recognition are found among anonymous photography. Similarly, not all photos made by the masters of the medium are meant for the public's eyes. Factors that determine preciousness and greatness are often unpredictable and wobbly. Marketing and hype are omnipresent and unpleasantly influential.

Discovering things and facts previously unbeknownst is stirring, addictive, bewildering. The finds rarely lead to closure and dotting one's i's, and more often -- to ellipses. Take the case of a roll of photographs shot by Andre Kertesz months before his death and not discovered until years later. (By the way, while on this site, do not miss the magnificent archives of exhibitions at the Hungarian Museum of Photography.)

Finally, here's Minor White on the different but related case of photographing "found objects" and of photographs finding themselves.

At the heart of it all, you see, is serendipity...:)

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