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Other People’s Pictures

A film by Lorca Shepperd & Cabot Philbrick
The Cinema Guild, New York, 2004
DVD, 53 mins., col.
Sales: $US 29.95 plus S & H
Distributor’s website: http://www.cinemaguild.com.

Reviewed by Kathryn Adams


"Photographs are refugees from their moment." Halla Beloff [1]

The humble snapshot. The result of a spontaneous, fleeting moment where camera, photographer and subject are linked and a memory is frozen in time forever. Our own family snaps connect us to our past, record our personal histories, fill our albums, and have the power to move us in ways known only to us. But how do we feel about other people’s photographs? In the aptly named documentary, Other People’s Pictures, by Lorca Shepperd and Cabot Philbrick, we meet a group of wistful individuals who not only like looking at other people’s snapshots, they search for, find solace in, collect, purchase, store, and display them in their own homes. What could be seen as being a weird obsession is a consuming passion for these nine collectors.

Shepperd, a collector herself, decided to make this documentary after a visit to the Chelsea Flea Market in New York City where every weekend obsessive snapshot collectors sift laboriously through thousands of photographs searching for that elusive picture to add to their collections. It was the emergence of this "little world of different people interested in the same thing" that piqued Shepperd’s interest and compelled her and Philbrick to delve further into the art of snapshot collecting. Every aspect of this little known pursuit is explored from how these once loved photographs make their way into the hands of dealers to the type of photos people collect and, most engagingly, what motivates the collectors to want to own another person’s discarded Kodak moment.

About collecting Drew says: "I collect photographs that usually nobody else wants. Not because they’re beautiful, not because they’re interesting but because they have resonance with my own life and my own childhood." Fern tells us: "The majority of my collection is faces. Whether it’s an animal or a person…there’s a history and there’s a heartbeat and there’s a life there." Dan, whose family were victims of the Holocaust, searches for photographs of Nazis doing every day things. He calls them ‘banality of evil’ photographs and is fascinated by the "enormous disconnect between their [Nazis] normal lives and what their day job was." Leslie collects ‘male affectionist snapshots’ to piece together a history of being gay, Don is on the lookout for kitsch Hawaiian photographs, and Lisa, who is drawn to the emotional content of a snapshot, searches for ‘women with attitude,’ saying "there’s something about the women’s faces in the pictures that I buy and I just like having them around me."

While some people collect to fill a void in their lives, settle scores or heal wounds, others collect simply because they enjoy showcasing terrific photos. For one collector the only prerequisite for purchasing a snapshot is "does it grab you?" Another believes that art can certainly be made by "someone having a good time and hitting the shutter at the right moment." For others it is a ‘personal pleasure’ to own part of another person’s past and to imagine what their lives were like. They see the snapshot as an unfinished story – what happened just after the photo was taken and what happened prior – making the viewer the poet.

The documentary, filmed at the Chelsea Flea Market and in the homes of the collectors, pays homage to the snapshot by featuring them in still segments that appear intermittently throughout the film. These wonderful images that have been rescued from obscurity by avid collectors range from the quirky Halloween and At the Beach snaps to the more bizarre Photographer’s Shadow and Mutilated Photographs. Accompanied by Hub Moore’s evocative music this feels like taking a pensive look through someone else’s photo album and being surprisingly captivated.

This is an eloquent look at the power of the unassuming snapshot and the people who feel a sense of responsibility toward them. As Leonie says, "I’m the foster parent of all these photographs…these strange, magical, frozen people."


[1] http://www.poetryclass.net/lessonc.htm.



Updated 1st May 2007

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