anonymous pics


I’ve been collecting anonymous photographs for more than two decades now and probably own a thousand or so, in all kind of formats. Nineteenth-century tintypes and cyanotypes, cabinet cards and cartes de visite, turn-of-the-century RPPCs (Real Photo Postcards), disaster pix, police mugshots and Bertillon cards, photo-booth strips, deaccessioned newspaper photos (especially ones with white crop marks), old prom photos, not to mention a recently acquired batch of ratty, Nan Goldin–style, 1970s Polaroids. Should I be in rehab? Lately I’ve managed to put a small part of my collection into serious, made-for-collectors-type albums—the organic kind, that is, with acid-free archival sleeves and glassine pockets. You can get them in the kale and beets section at Whole Foods. But most of my pictures, alas, remain scattered about, secreted away in boxes and drawers and plastic bags, stuck into books, or else just hiding out somewhere in my house. Where, I’m not sure: domestic life becomes ever more Grey Gardens–like. No more vintage photo shows, says spouse Blakey—nor will I be going anywhere near the eBay log-in page—until I unearth all the mute, two-dimensional Missing Persons already lurking somewhere in the downstairs closet. As addictions go, collecting old photos of obscure provenance may be harmless enough.

more from Terry Castle at the Paris Review here.