Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Other people's pictures in my home

A photo I found at a Paris flea market now sits on top of our armoire.

I watched the documentary "Other People's Pictures" and then took a look at my (very small) collection of photos rescued from flea markets.

First, my thoughts on the documentary. The film presents an even-handed glimpse of the world of snapshot collecting as seen through a flea market in Chelsea, NYC. I say "glimpse" because I would have loved to learn even more. The film does not show how the vendors acquire the photos they sell, for example. Instead, it focuses on a few collectors as they hunt for photos that resonate with them. A few I remember:
  • One man collects photos representing what he calls "the banality of evil"--scenes of Nazis in uniform enjoying a family dinner or out on a date. The man hangs the "banality of evil" photos on a wall in his home not 10 feet away from another photo wall that displays his own relatives, many of whom died in concentration camps.
  • A woman who works with disabled adults loves to find that rare photo of a child with down syndrome, happy at home during a time when most parents institutionalized children with mental disabilities.
  • A gay man sees his search for old homoerotic photos as a means of preserving a neglected history.
Other people are less specific, hoping simply for that serendipitous "find" that speaks to them--an attitude that I share.

Two more photos from a Paris flea market that are now part of our family.

Some of the people featured in the documentary have thousands of other people's photos packed into closets and containers under their beds. Unlike them, I own only a few, and have scattered them about my home and office. Family snapshots are my favorite. I find their spontaneity far more interesting than most posed portraits. The popularity of candid or "journalistic" photography at weddings suggests that I am not alone in my love of spontaneity. My own style of photography is greatly influenced by the aesthetic of snapshots and I prefer to go into a photo session without a checklist of standard poses.

For me, the old flea market photos represent a connection with the history of photography and they show me that images (like poems) have the power to create connections and meaning that transcends their original context.

Take a look at the photos around your own home. What role do they play in your life? You may want to document your use of photos as part of the Monthly Special (just a suggestion).