Found Photography

Image courtesy Ron Slattery/ (Creative Commons)

In July of last year, the Internet briefly flared up over what, for a photographer at least, was the ne plus ultra of garage sale finds: a set of photographic plates purchased by some guy at a garage sale in California for 45 bucks turned out to be long-lost negatives taken by none other than Ansel Adams. Having long ago resigned myself to the fact that I’m not likely to have that kind of luck, I content myself with browsing ephemera at antique shops and auctions, looking at other people’s photos from days, and years, gone by.

There are several reasons I do this, not least of which is the simple fact that I’m drawn to old stuff. It’s also quite literally a snapshot of another time; you can learn quite a bit about history, modes of dress, and mores, all from a simple 4×6 (or smaller). There can be an unexpected power to these faded and yellowed images.

As with pretty much anything else you can think of, there’s a home — several of them, actually — for this stuff online. I’ve culled a few of my favorites for anyone else who might be interested.

  • AtypicalArt’s Flickr photostream combines Ambrotypes, tintypes, photobooth finds, and the photographer’s own work, which manages not to seem out of place next to the older items he collects.
  • Ron Slattery’s Bighappyfunhouse is a dizzying ride through some gently warped vernacular photography.
  • Found Photographs is a self-described “a gallery of inadvertent art,” and lives up to its billing. The photos on exhibit range across time, geography, and subject, at some points whimsical, at others poignant.
  • Foundphotos is an open LiveJournal account. Many of the images are from the UK (with plenty of exceptions), and date to the late 19th-early 20th century.
  • Is This You combines found photos with other found ephemera (notes, et cetera).
  • The About page of  Look at Me comments that the photos they’ve showcased, some 600+ of them, are “stories with only an introduction.” That nicely sums up this collection, which features images spanning several decades.
  • The Museum of Vernacular Photography has one of the most headache-inducing layouts I’ve seen since about 1998. If you can get past that, you’ll be rewarded with what’s probably the most eclectic collection on this list, with everything from military and news photography to movie stills, erotica and photography books amply represented.
  • Rollfilm is only tangentially about found photography. The now apparently defunct (but still live) site is actually a celebration of photography in all its forms.
  • The Thanatos Archive presents an extensive collection of postmortem and mourning photography — a genre which, I have to admit, I hadn’t known existed ’til I came across this site. Many of the images are (and I say this with no trace of a pun intended) haunting, some remaining in your memory long after the monitor’s turned off.
  • Vintange Pixels is a mixed bag of images, some found, others appearing to be the uploaders’ family snapshots.

The photos contained on these sites, besides being a reminder of forgotten times, places, and people, serve as a reminder to us, as well. Presumably these images, and the people in them, were once cherished; now, they, and the photographers who took them, are unknown… not a bad thing to remember the next time you think you’ve got your photography all figured out.