New York Magazine

December 13, 2004
CRITICS PICK

A fascinating documentary about people who obsessively collect vintage snapshots, and what makes them tick. Never condescending, the film effectively conveys these collectors’ wonder at their found images, while offering keen observations on the ways obsession manifests itself in different people. Plus, the photos are great.
 

NEWWEST.NET

February 25, 2005

I must admit that "Other People’s Pictures" caused me to have a silent, "man-tear moment" when I saw it. This award-winning short by Brooklyn filmmakers Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick centers around obsessive collectors of other people’s discarded photographs which are sold on weekends at New York City’s Chelsea Flea Market. The collectors of the photos are as interesting as the photographs themselves. One collector, a Jewish man named Dan whose relatives experienced the concentration camps of WWII, only sought pictures of Nazi soldiers as they went about their lives outside their day job. Displayed on a wall in his apartment (just around the corner from his own family pictures), he titled his collection "The Banality of Evil." It was an unsettling, humanizing look at Nazi Germany unlike any I have ever seen. The photos showed uniformed soldiers in a variety of mundane situations such as fatherhood during holidays and family gatherings or hoisting a glass at a beer hall.  “You see people who look like your next door neighbor,” Dan said in the film.  But what truly affected me about this film was seeing numerous discarded family photographs throughout. There were a number of beautiful snapshots of families captured during what appeared to be great vacations, holidays or humorous moments. The thought of these memories somehow being lost to flea market collectors made me instantly aware of the disarray of my own family photos and completely freaked me out. However, up to this point, my description of "Other People’s Pictures" is a bit misleading. There are a number of hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments in the film as well. There haven’t been many films that have made me both laugh and cry, but this is the latest one.

– Scott Mathews
 


The Onion

December 8, 2004

Because film is cheap, nearly all of us take more pictures than we need, and when we die, we leave behind piles of snapshots that no longer have any clear significance. So the junkshop scavengers in the documentary Other People's Pictures supply their own. Filmmakers Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick interviewed a handful of hobbyists who collect old photos for a variety of reasons. Some look for photo-booth photos, or ones taken with certain kinds of cameras, while others look for certain subjects (tourists in Hawaii, Nazis at home), or significant flaws (blurred faces, snaps with people cut out, photographer's shadows, and the like). As one collector puts it, "If it catches my eye, there must be something about it."

Unlike some recent documentaries that treat unusual interests with gentle mockery, Other People's Pictures is square-dealing and respectful. All of the interviewees articulate why they dig through flea-market piles for specific images: mainly to fill a unique nostalgic need. One woman looks for old pictures in which women look defiant and free-spirited; one gay man looks for hints of homoeroticism in snaps of bare-chested sailors. Nearly all of them look at found pictures as a form of accidental art, but they don't condescend to the people whose lives they haggle over. The collectors feel a responsibility to safeguard lost memories, to the extent that they Debate whether it's okay to break up family albums for the sake of one favorite shot.

Other People's Pictures works on two levels: as a study of the collectors, and as a compendium of images from their collections. Shepperd and Philbrick could've held some of the pictures onscreen longer, and they could've been more explicit about how the market works and how prices are set. But where the movie seems too breezy, it's only because the subject matter contains enough material for a dozen films of the likes of Los Angeles Plays Itself or Rock Hudson's Home Movies. As the meaning of a suburban swing-set or a day at the beach gets transferred, a ritualistic process occurs that's both intimate and profound. In an era of digital cameras—with immediate deletion of "mistakes"—and the instant gratification of online shopping, snapshot-collecting may be the last hobby that takes enough time and effort to transform those who do it.

– Noel Murray
 


New York Post

December 8, 2004
Rating:  Three Stars

Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells a Story" would make a great theme for "Other People's Pictures," a documentary about a strange hobby: collecting discarded or lost home snapshots.  Indie filmmakers Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick took their cameras to the Chelsea Flea Market in Manhattan, where each weekend dedicated collectors rummage through thousands of cast-off pix.  Dan, an Israeli immigrant whose family was wiped out in the Holocaust, collects shots of Nazis doing everyday things.  "There's this enormous disconnect between their normal lives and what their day job was," Dan explains.  Peter says he likes photo-booth snaps; another man, who grew up in Hawaii, collects 1930s, '40s and '50s pix of the sunny islands; Lewis, a gay man, prefers homoerotic snaps.  Fern sums things up when she says she's become obsessed: "The more photographs you look through, you have to look for more."  "Other People's Pictures," unreeling with two experimental briefs by Bill Morrison, is a short (53 minutes) and sweet introduction to a little-known world of eccentric collectors.
 


The Village Voice

December 8-14, 2004
Tracking Shots

"Each still photograph is a privileged moment, turned into a slim object that one can keep and look at again," writes Susan Sontag in On Photography. The nine snapshot collectors featured in OPP devote their weekends to the avid pursuit of such privileged moments at the Chelsea flea market, where one vendor becomes slightly huffy when a potential buyer doesn't realize he's holding a photo of King Leopold III. Unlike several of the obsessive filmgoers in last year's Cinemania, whose movie madness warranted an entry in the DSM-IV, the photo buffs in Shepperd and Philbrick's slim, bare-bones doc speak coolly and lucidly about their passion. "It's the unfinished story—what happened just before, what happened just after," notes middle-aged Peter about the poignant narrative a snapshot provides. Plummy-voiced Leonie reveres the subjects in her treasured pics as "these strange, magical, frozen people." Excavated from flea market bins and then neatly assembled in frames, albums, or plastic containers, the frozen people are reanimated by their collector's returning gaze.

– Melissa Anderson
 


TIME OUT NEW YORK

December 9-15, 2004

Why would anyone collect discarded photographs of people they don't know?  Not celebrities or models or people of historical importance, just regular people on vacation, attending birthday parties or mugging for the camera.  "Why would people collect anything?" counters Fern Rickman, one of nine snapshot enthusiasts profiled in Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick's short, intriguing documentary.

The filmmakers haunted New York's Chelsea Flea Market searching out snapshot fans, most of whom prove strikingly perceptive and articulate about the impulses that drive them. Some collect like postcard enthusiasts, gravitating toward certain categories of images: Halloween, beach frolics, crime, dolls, pets, swimmers, nudes or women dressed to the nines, pictures in which the photographer's shadow oozes into frame like some malevolent imp or snapshots mutilated to remove an offending subject. Others admire the accidental aesthetics of amateur images, sublime surrealities created by weird framing, odd subject matter - a conga line of dogs, anyone? - or curious accidents of perspective and proportion. But most collectors are seduced by the stories these stray, frozen images imply. Drew Naprawa is self-consciously re-creating the family albums his mother threw away when she joined a religious cult, and likes to imagine that his own discarded memories made their way into the hands of someone like him. Leslie Apodaca focuses on old images of men hugging, sitting on each other's laps, striking muscle-man poses together. He feels he's saving a little piece of queer history, he says, while readily admitting that he might be reading his own desires into the two-dimensional ambiguity of faded images. Japanese-American Don Sumada, who was raised in Hawaii, is equally attracted to vintage palm-trees-and-hula kitsch and pictures of ethnic families in the Aloha State. Lisa Kahane prefers feisty women defying traditional gender stereotypes, while Fern, who works with developmentally challenged adults, particularly loves a small cache of photos depicting a little girl with Down syndrome. Dan Lenchner, who lost much of his father's family to concentration camps, gravitates towards "banality of evil photos" - candid shots of Nazis at home. He displays them on a wall alongside pictures of his own martyred relatives - morbid perhaps, but not loony.

Ouija boards, comic books, antique absinthe spoons - one person's junk is another's treasure, and some of the collections the filmmakers showcase are enough to make your fingers itch for a box of wrinkled photos through which to sift.

– Maitland McDonagh
 


The Christian Science Monitor

December 10, 2004
Rating: Three Stars

Documentary about people who collect snapshots they find in flea markets and similar venues.  Modest, informative, engaging.

– David Sterritt
 


Washington City Paper

June 11, 2004

Set primarily among the dealers' tables in New York's Chelsea Flea Market, Other People’s Pictures focuses on nine near-obsessive collectors in search of old family photographs and their vastly different motivations: Lisa, for example, searches for shots of fellow strong-willed women; Dan hunts for photos of his Hawaiian homeland; Leslie searches for beefcake that hints at repressed homosexuality. Filmmakers Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick also spend some time in collectors' homes: After his family's album was destroyed years ago, Drew assembles a new one that simply helps him remember his childhood, while Dan, who lost many ancestors during the Holocaust, hunts for snapshots of Nazis engaged in everyday activities, in appreciation of the disconnect between 'their normal lives and their day jobs.' Color-drenched square Kodacolors, mutilated pics, and even the unexpectedly hilarious photos that accidentally include the shooter's shadow all figure here, illustrating one collector's time-honored philosophy: 'It boils down to, 'Does it grab you?' That's the value of the picture to me.' By smoothly juggling its likable subjects and photographs for just under an hour, Other People’s Pictures offers a quick but satisfying peek at life—just like the best old snapshots do. In conjunction with 'Silverdocs: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival.' (MSS)
 


The Boston Globe

January 17, 2005
GO MONDAY!: Lost and found

Nine people share a rather odd, um, hobby: They collect snapshots that have been abandoned or lost by their original owners and are now for sale.  Along with dozens of other collectors, they comb New York's Chelsea Flea Market for the castoffs, burrowing through bins, sifting through stacks, looking at and buying photos of other people's birthdays, weddings, bah mitzvahs, and the like.  This makes Go! feel decidedly normal, as we have not once felt compelled to do this in all our years on the planet. We barely look at our own photos. Our fear: We go to the Coolidge Corner Theatre tonight at 7:30 and watch ''Other People's Pictures," the documentary made about this picture-pillaging phenomenon by directors Lorca Shepherd and Cabot Philbrick, hear them speak, and . . . get hooked! No, seriously, we don't think that would happen. But Go! has always been in favor of encouraging the exploration of other worlds and that this is. The film, making its New England premiere and shown in conjunction with the Photographic Resource Center's ''Contemporary Vernacular" exhibit, won best documentary at the New Orleans Film Festival last year.

– June Wulff 


The Boston Globe

January 13, 2005

Who were these people?

In the so-cute-it-hurts French film ''Amelie," the object of Audrey Tautou's timid affections is a man with a seemingly bizarre hobby -- he collects snapshots of complete strangers. Not only does he collect the photos, he also keeps them neatly arranged in a photo album.

But the hobby did not seem so unusual to Andrew M. K. Warren. About 10 years ago, Warren, a Roslindale-based photographer who also teachers photography, began collecting pictures he found discarded and, as he puts it, ''blowing along like tumbleweeds." The images -- of happy couples, teenagers drinking beer, people embarrassing themselves at office parties -- were found in trash cans near photo booths, in Dumpsters, or just lying in the street. Warren's collection of found photos now numbers around 1,000; part of his collection can be seen at www.prcboston.org/warren.htm.

Warren affectionately refers to these forsaken images as his ''treasures," and he isn't alone in his appreciation. The number of people collecting found photos is growing. ''Within the past couple of years, the idea of collecting other people's pictures has really taken off," Warren says. ''It's something that's really captured the public's imagination."

The desire to collect the often mundane snapshots appears to be a combination of three factors: A craving for nostalgia, a need to give abandoned pieces of history a home, and just a touch of voyeurism.

This month, there are multiple opportunities in the Boston area to see photo and art exhibits of found photos. There's also a gallery talk on the subject and a screening of a documentary film on the subject (see box). These shows range from displays of found-photo collections at the Boston University Art Gallery and at Panopticon Gallery to found photos that have been altered and manipulated by artists, like those currently displayed at Montserrat College and at BU's Photographic Resource Center.

''I think people love the mystery of coming up with stories to explain who the people are in these photographs, and how these pictures ended up here," says Lorca Shepperd, director of ''Other People's Pictures," a documentary film about collecting found photos. ''I don't think it's voyeurism in an insidious way. Generally people who collect them have feelings of empathy and sympathy for people in the photos, even though they don't know them. I think they feel a responsibility, that if they give these photos a home then someone is caring about these people."

What the current gallery shows have in common is a strangely captivating quality. The idea of looking at a snapshot of a 1923 girls' basketball team in Bar Harbor may not sound exciting, but linger over the photo long enough and you can't help but wonder what the team's record was. Or look at the picture of the toddler with the cigarette in his mouth, and you begin to wonder if the next photo on the roll featured the boy with a bottle of gin in one hand and a deck of cards in the other.

It's not just curiosity that drives collectors. Rodger Kingston, a photographer with a found photo collection that numbers around 4,000, says the everyday photos he collects inspires the composition of his own photos. A small part of his collection is currently on display at the Boston University Art Gallery.

Because people often feel a connection with old photos, even snapshots of strangers, the images have moved beyond the hands of collectors and artists and found a home in popular culture. Found Magazine -- launched in 2001, it prints a wide assortment of found ephemera sent in by readers, from photos and letters to birthday cards and to-do lists -- sells about 30,000 copies each time it's published (which so far is only occasionally). A book of these personal artifacts published by Found Magazine last May has so far sold about 60,000 copies.

''A lot of people think it's kind of creepy to be looking at other people's pictures," says Jason Bitner, who mans the Found Magazine website, www.foundmagazine.com. ''But I think it's healthy. It's a good thing to be curious about other people. It's not so much that I'm looking to put someone's privacy in jeopardy, or point fingers and laugh at anyone. It's more sharing the experience of living and knowing that I've been there and written that same note or had that same photograph taken of me. You start seeing that we all really share a lot of the same experiences."

People are also sharing photos of strangers on their greeting cards. The North Carolina-based card company MikWright features old photos from the families of company founders Tim Mikkelsen and Phyllis Wright, reproduced and glued to the front of the cards. A typical card may feature a photo of a matronly woman on the front, with a caption inside that reads: ''Mother of five. Grandmother of twelve. Drunk by seven." MikWright cards can be found in the Boston area at stores such as Aunt Sadie's and Paper Source.

The company has grown dramatically during the past five years, primarily because people are familiar with the kitschy images from the 1950s and 1960s from their own family photo albums. ''We have one customer in the Midwest who peels the pictures off the cards and pastes them into an album," says Mikkelsen. ''He kind of makes up his own family with the pictures from the cards. We don't really ask too many questions about that one."

– Christopher Muther, Globe Staff  
Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.