‘The Depository Of Unwanted Photographs’ gets a second look
An archived archive gets dusted off for a group show about vernacular photo collections
In the summer of 2013, I attempted to temporarily get out of my prison-photo-bubble and find out what people loved about photographs by asking them which of theirs they loved the least. Which did they wish to condemn to the trash-bin of history?
For two long weekends at Photoville, a couple of volunteers and I took submissions of embarrassing, forgetful, incriminating and emotionally-burdensome images. The Depository Of Unwanted Photographs (TDOUP) was born. Comprised of a little over 200 images, TDOUP has been in permanent storage over the intervening 5-and-a-half years. Well, it’s going to get a public run out.
TDOUP is part of The Past is Prologue: Vernacular Photography, Pop Photographica and the Road to Selfie Culture, showing at Art Yard in Frenchtown, NJ from April 27th-July 28th. The Past is Prologue traces the evolution of everyday photography from the late 19th century to Instagram. The collections and works “explore a beguiling terrain comprised of unauthored and found photographs, and commercial objects and images divorced from their original contexts” including discarded works, photo booth portraiture, family albums, newspaper archive press prints, industrial catalogues, and more. From the collections of Pete Brook, W.M. Hunt, Daile Kaplan, Nigel Poor and Cynthia Rubin. Featuring the works of Marcia Lippman and Cassandra Zampini.
The opening reception is Saturday, April 27th, 6–8pm. I’ll be there.
More about ‘The Depository Of Unwanted Photographs’
When asked to name a single image they absolutely treasure, people usually don’t hesitate: a snap of their children, a family Polaroid, or a formal portrait from precious life event, for example. “What is your most beloved photo?” is a common question. “What is your worst photo?”, on the other hand, is a near-perverse inquiry.
If we’re looking for good photography, we’ll find plenty in photobooks, galleries and publications, but where do we find a legitimate and well-researched presentation of bad photography? Does our discussion of what is good not also rely on a shared knowledge of what is bad, unwanted and unloved?
TDOUP was built on a belief that vernacular photos and stories are as relevant as the stories attached to news-photo-exclusives and famous documentary images. People’s stories are central to conversation about how we consume and use photography. We create and circulate billions of images every day and we constantly employ choices (consciously and subconsciously) to share or pass over images. If we accept the mantra that “We are all photographers” then aren’t we all photo-editors too?
There might be many images any individual would want to trash, but in asking people to choose only one, TDOUP urges people to think about the value system they’ve written for their own photographs. In choosing one photo for the great big dustbin of history, TDOUP contributors can meditate on their actions as image-makers and as “editors”.
From serious concerns to exorcism of the frivolous, TDOUP distills our different experiences and priorities-a portrait of a man who’s death spurred the only time a daughter saw her father cry; an engagement ring from a union that never materialized; photos of family abusers follow those of rancid chocolate; bad pics of the moon or the street; blurry photos of friends; the last photo before alcohol-eradicated memory took hold; Polaroids with emotional burden too heavy to carry; embarrassing clichés, cringeworthy selfies; photos of an IVF clinic and of the pogo-stick world record; accidental but beautiful prints made by misfiring processors; haunting images of soon-to-die parents; and a photo from the crowd of the 2013 Boston Marathon hours before the terror attack at the finish line. The interrelation of the images is as unpredictable as the motives for their original submission.
The Depository Of Unwanted Photographs is an unpredictable interrogation of quality that crucially is made by the public, not by the dominant voices of those in the media or culture industries. Which single photograph would you state, on the record, as unwanted?
More about ‘The Past Is Prologue’
Daile Kaplan’s collection of photographic textiles represent one facet of her pioneering work in the creation of a category known as Pop Photographica, representing a range of functional, decorative and commercial objects, from coffee cans to funereal fans emblazoned with images of the deceased. The costume works from her collection in this show range from high fashion dresses to low fashion pajamas. Kaplan is Vice President of Swann Galleries in New York, and an expert appraiser of photography for the Antiques Road Show.
W.M. Hunt’s collection of press prints from late 19th century and early 20th century newspaper illustrations are drawn from his Collection Dancing Bear and Collection Blind Pirate: the former, “magical heart stopping images of people in which their eyes are obscured” and the latter, American Groups before 1950. This is the first time that Hunt, a respected and prolific collector and writer in the field, has drawn from both for an exhibition.
The artist and photographer Marcia Lippman’s installation is a meditation in found images about her life-long search for an elusive biological mother. Born in an era when adopted children were denied access to their own biographical information, Lippman’s quest has been a driving force behind her artistic practice. A short film by Elsa Mora about Lippman’s process accompanies the work. Marcia Lippman is a photographer, a teacher, a traveler, a collector, and a storyteller. Much of her work for four decades has explored the passage and residues of time along with the ephemeral nature of memory.
Nigel Poor is a photographer and co-founder of the San Quentin prison-based podcast Ear Hustle. In the course of her research she happened upon a trove of period untitled photographs from inside San Quentin taken in the 1960s and 70s. These arresting images illuminate a world that remains hidden from view to this day.
Curator, lecturer and collector Cynthia Rubin’s collection of 19th century advertising ladies features images of women in 19th century bustles adorned with everyday objects from carpenter’s levels, bakery products and chain mail. Before the advent of sandwich boards or electronic media, women dressed in such Dr. Seussian outfits circulated the commercial districts of their towns promoting their employer’s wares.
Artist Cassandra Zampini has created a video installation representing one second of one hashtag of videos on Instagram. United Photo Industries and Pete Brook created and curated The Depository Of Unwanted Photographs, a crowdsourced archive of images and stories. Visitors are invited to add to the collection by donating unwanted photographs.