Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We collectors

often collect strange things.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of watching Unlikely Treasures. I immediately thought to myself, "These are my people."
 I loved this quote from the film,
"I am the curator of the museum of my brain."
I suppose the museum of your brain can become a tangible thing. I sometimes compare my house to  a magpie's nest -literally filled with scraps of yarn, shiny bits, and my collections. I don't know exactly why I collect certain things. Of course some collectibles make sense -sentimental reasons or for decorating. Some collections are common and lots of other people collect the same items. As for other things, I don't have such an easy time explaining it. Found grocery lists, found polaroids of unremarkable buildings, why hang on to these things? Why even pick them up and keep them? I don't know. I'm drawn to ephemera, or some might might say- trash.
old postcards and a found polaroid photo

I starting collecting other people's old photos in high school. I think it started when I was going through a box of postcards looking for the little messages written on the back. Next to it was a box of old family photos. At first, I thought how sad it was that no one in the family wanted these photos. I started going through them. There were candids, posed photos, holiday and vacation photos; even some very old ones. An entire family history in a cardboard box. I decided I would take some home and I would appreciate them.

I used to think this was an unlikely treasure but, evidently there are quite a few people who collect other people's photos. There's a wonderful documentary on the subject, you can find info & a trailer about it here.

I'm especially drawn to candids, people with their pets, and anything unusual. Some of my favorites are of a zoo from the 30s, pictures of someone's television in '69 when they landed on the moon. And  this silly fellow doing a handstand. These collections don't really serve a purpose. I don't even have a fraction of them on display. Most of them sit in boxes. But, I do enjoy them.
In both of the films compulsion is hinted at. The collectors are presented as quirky and maybe even obsessive. Is there a fine line between hoarding and collecting or is it more clearly defined? There are a lot of popular television shows that deal with these piles and piles of stuff, whether it's Hoarders or American Pickers. Is this an American phenomenon? The result of a consumer culture where items that last a long time are meant to be thrown away and replaced? Maybe we collectors are a little like historians, curating the museums of our minds and anything else that catches the magpie's eye.

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