No, I haven’t found a stash of mysterious photographs in the attic of the Small Aperture Mansion. (Although, it is altogether possible there are heaps of photos up there. I should take a look.) I suppose it was more a question of, if I were to find a suitcase bulging with prints of no known provenance, what exactly would I do with them? I got thinking about this when I used a Polaroid print quite randomly as a bookmark. (My usual bookmark of choice is a train ticket.)
You see, I follow a blog called Forgotten Bookmarks. The guy who runs it owns a secondhand bookshop and he documents the postcards, the recipes, the newspaper clippings, the receipts, and all the odd things that turn up amongst his stock. Unsurprisingly, the largest category of forgotten bookmarks is photographs. And some of them can be very sweet indeed. Go take a peek.
But you can probably follow my train of thought.
So, what to do with these hypothetical found photos of mine? There are quite a few websites out there devoted to cataloguing found photographs. Let’s start with a big hitter. Flickr has not one, but two found photo pools: Found Photographs and The Museum of Found Photographs. How much information you get with each picture depends on who submits it, but it’s a fun way to while away some time!
Look at me was started by Frederic Bonn and Zoe Deleu when they found a few photos lying in a Paris street in 1998. From those few pictures, there are now 634. It hasn’t been updated in yonks, but it isn’t exactly as if things have gone out of date on it.
Time Tales was a project started by Astrid van Loo, a photographer, and Dick Dijkman, a webdesigner. I love the design on this site. It’s arranged according to the suspected decade of the photos, and whatever information that can be gathered from the picture is displayed, but nothing that amounts to speculation. You can even send a small selection of the images as e-cards.
The Lost Photo Gallery all started when a guy found a passport photo in the street. And then another. And then another. The site has grown from just passport photos, but it still reminds me of the film Amelie.
There are other takes on the found photo ideal out there: some guy has catalogued his finds from filesharing at Found Photos, and someone tried to set up a forum to help learn more about found photos at Lost-and-Found-Photos. That seems quite dead, though. Somehow, though, letting these pictures just be seems okay, too.
If you’ve ten minutes to spare, go for a browse and let yourself wonder who these people were and the kinds of lives that they lived. (But be careful, because some of the pictures aren’t always entirely safe for work.)