The term found photography refers to the recovery of lost, unclaimed or discarded images. One might find such photographs in second-hand stores, garage sales, on the street or in boxes of memorabilia that Uncle Harold left in the attic many years ago.
Friends have told me that they have discarded many of the photographs left to them by family members: ‘We didn’t know who the people in the photographs were or where the photographs were made so we chucked them.’ We lose many valuable historical resources and some amazing images this way.
James Borcoman, photographer and former Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Canada, said ‘The photograph can confront us with both the universal and the particular at the same instant in time. The strange tension that results between these two polarities is the force that can make the photograph so moving or poignant or disturbing.'
While a photograph hanging on a gallery wall may be expected to fit Borcoman’s description more than a photograph that is discovered in a closet or thrift shop, both images may, indeed, be moving, poignant or disturbing.
This postcard photograph comes from a collection of my wife’s family’s papers. While there is no legible postmark the stamp on the card is a one cent Canadian with the image of King George VI, issued in 1942. The caption at the bottom of the image says that it is a lake view from a hotel on Lake Menaki, Ontario. The Lodge was built by the Canadian National Railway in 1914, and was destroyed by fire in 2003.
This is a fine image that reflects a time when people came to stay at Menaki and similar hotels across Canada for weeks at a time. Perhaps some of you may have visited the hotel or the current site. If so, I would be delighted to hear from you.
Collectors of found photographs may collect images like this one – or images that relate to virtually any subject (see Other People’s Pictures).
Found photographs may be inexpensive or free, but they may tell us a lot about the world around us. They may also help us discover previously unknown photographers, such as Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found.