Tuesday, July 30, 2019

OPM (Other People's Memories), or, The "lucky bag" principle of aleatory record buying applied to photography

aka Why Do Some People Develop the Lost Camera Films of Total Strangers?

Amelia Tait at the Observer, er, observes this strange subculture of hobbyists who purchase rolls of undeveloped film and then develop them - sometimes getting a bunch of blank grey images, sometimes nondescript snapshots, but occasionally something weird or poignant:

"Those who sell mystery film often don’t set out to trade in the stuff, instead it’s usually picked up by chance at house clearances, inside old cameras or in charity shops. There are many tragic reasons why these rolls could have been forgotten about – divorce, death, dementia – and many mundane ones: film processing is expensive and it’s easy to set aside a half-used roll to be finished later and simply forget about it. Used film can sell from £1 to £100 on eBay, and more and more people are gathering online to celebrate their hobby....

"For Levi Bettwieser, a 33-year-old video producer from Idaho, an interest in forgotten film can be both expensive and risky. Bettwieser estimates he has spent “upwards of $10,000” on rolls of film over the past five years, and says he “can get 10 rolls in a row that come out blank” due to the film being degraded. “A couple of years ago, I was winning and buying every single roll of used film on eBay,” Bettwieser says. “There’s always a feeling of overall excitement that you might get something amazing, something historically viable. Or you might get more cat photos.” Bettwieser now runs a non-profit scheme, the Rescued Film Project, where he encourages people to give him their old rolls which he then develops. “Part of the reason I’m doing it is because I like the idea of being the first person to ever see these images; even the photographer has never seen them.”

It's a bit intrusive.... a bit peeping-tom-ish, if you think about it.

It's also archive fever finding a new zone to flex itself in - again the idea that everything deserves to be preserved....

“I love so many images for so many reasons,” says Bettwieser, when asked about his favourite photo he’s recovered. “I try and look at every image I rescue as if I’m looking at it in 50 years – everything I rescue is history. People hold on to rolls of film for years and years in the back of a drawer, because we all know that pictures are history, whether it’s just a birthday party or not. Pictures are our only defence against time, our only evidence, sometimes, that we ever even existed.”

Postscript August 1st - 
interesting thoughts on this subject from Xenogothic, who is a collector of such images and is drawn to them for their "alterity"

"The main thrill comes from seeing something radically out of context. The anxiety of the unanswerable question that haunted Roland Barthes instead becomes a perverse thrill — indeed, as it was for Barthes though he seemed reluctant to admit it.

Like an object found on the beach in a ghost story, the energy trapped in a photograph like a fly in amber is a special thing that is highly susceptible to romantic flights of the nostalgic subject and, as such, to find such things in the world of the vernacular image is far past the pale of cliche...."

Xenogothic also says that another place to find such images is record covers