When I was a photography student, back in days before changing nappies and dealing with tantrums and mastitis, one of my favourite pastimes was to scour junk shops for old photographs. As you may have already guessed, I didn’t have much of a social life. I would buy the ones that caught my eye for one reason or another. Sometimes it was the subject matter. I particularly liked ones with animals in them. Sometimes I was drawn to the way the photograph was taken, the composition, the framing, the over-all aesthetic harmony (or lack thereof). But more often than not I didn’t know what it was that drew me to it. Even now I struggle to explain why I picked some of the ones I picked. Occasionally, a photo would slip out from the pages of a book in a second-hand bookshop (someone’s ad hoc bookmark, no doubt) and I would surreptitiously pocket it. That’s not technically stealing, right?
Once in a while I will take my photo collection out and look through them. I wonder about the people in them or the photographer taking the picture. Who are these people? Where are they now? Are they still alive? What sort of life did they have? Why did someone feel compelled to take a photo of that particular scene or object? Why are there so many photos of this tall, skinny man and his dog, ‘Sambo’ and what happened to that guy? Did the photographer mean to make it look like the bare trees behind that horse were in fact the horses antlers? Or was that just a fluke? What’s up with the hat/no-hat lady? And perhaps the biggest mystery of all; how did they end up in a junk shop, discarded and unloved?