Recently I was at a talk given by Richard Barnes when he was asked if there was anything he collected. The question was in response to a lot of his work being about archeology, museums and artifacts in general. His answer was that though he didn’t really collect anything he felt that, in a sense, all photographers were collectors.
While the practice of photography itself is collecting, a lot of photographers seem to be attracted to the collection of others as well. In the past few months (in addition to Barnes’ work) I have seen examples of it in the Hiroshi Sugimoto show at the de Young, Jason Fulford’s work at the Prelinger Library that appeared in Blindspot 35 and in Harper’s (May 2007), and Catherine Wagner’s work with items from the de Young’s collection (Re-classifying History) and the Baltimore Museum of Industry (A Narrative History of the Light Bulb).
What makes collecting interesting is that looking at a collection gives you an idea of what that person or culture finds important. I was thinking of using the phrase “gives value to”, but that pulls in monetary and the best collections are put together for the love of the thing collected without any thought to its monetary value. At various different points I have collected stamps, coin, baseball cards, comic books, match books, and other bits of ephemera. My interests tend to shift a bit. Now I photograph and I find that in photography I have the same shifting interests and it’s a continual struggle to Find the Subject. I guess that is part of the reason I am starting this blog, as a way to work through my various interests and, by putting them into words, find the thread that connects them.