Touch, Feel and Lose

One of the least discussed topics around the eclipse of analogue photography, by digital, is the impending loss of the photographic object.

Maybe it hasn’t merited much mention because (as Geoffrey Batchen reminds us ) there is a widespread tendency to suppress what a photograph is in favour of what it shows. Even the most sophisticated discussions around photography centre on the image, overlooking what else it might be.

The activities of Found magazine are interesting because they bring the materiality of the photograph powerfully into focus, just as the trend seems to be for its dematerialisation.

Found magazine was established in the USA in 2001 for collectors of objects trouves. Its website asks for, “love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, telephone bills, doodles – anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life…” The title specialises in publishing such items but always alongside the “outsider” writing of collectors with alternative accounts of the world – whacky mysteries, strange tales and calamites (real or imagined) based on whatever evidence can be sifted from the detritus of the city’s streets and tips.

The favoured idiom is collage and found photographs are a popular ingredient of collage narratives. This is somehow fitting if you remember that photo collage started out as a domestic activity. Early family albums are instructive for showing how photographs and sometimes texts were organised into personal narratives. Among the “worthless” photographs to be found in city spaces are banal snaps or studio portraits (most of them analogue) and a good proportion of Polaroids (those remnants of the era of the daguerreotype). In scans these items yield information about what they are, not just what they show. Such abject material was banned from the Modernist archive, but is now welcome in Found magazine’s ad hoc archive, dispersed inside thousands of envelopes. Every envelope is a portable collection and inside each envelope is a missive that responds to the editors’ invitation to: “Tell us where you found [the object], which city, and any reactions of interpretations you might have.”

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Published in Photoworks Issue 8, 2007
Commissioned by Photoworks

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