View­point Tracy Calder

Whether you col­lect records, pho­to­graphic prints, or even traf­fic cones, the ob­jects you sur­round your­self with can have a big im­pact on your cre­ative work

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

Ac­cord­ing to psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor Chris­tian Jar­rett, roughly a third of peo­ple in the UK col­lect some­thing. From traf­fic cones to old bars of soap (yes, re­ally) it ap­pears we get a kick out of fill­ing our spare bed­rooms with ephemera. Over the past 40 years I have col­lected shells, records (specif­i­cally 12in pic­ture discs), post­cards, old let­ters, mag­a­zines and, of course, pho­to­graphs. Ad­mit­tedly, my en­thu­si­asm for many of these col­lec­tions has been short-lived. The vinyl has been sold, the let­ters binned, and the boxes of shells and post­cards found a new home in my par­ents’ loft (thanks Mum and Dad).

How­ever, two of my col­lec­tions are still ‘ac­tive’. The fact that I still love, and col­lect, mag­a­zines and pho­to­graphs is no sur­prise; I’ve worked in the photo pub­lish­ing in­dus­try for more than 20 years af­ter all. But with the open­ing of the V&A’s Pho­tog­ra­phy Cen­tre on 12 Oc­to­ber (the V&A be­gan col­lect­ing pho­to­graphs in 1852) it got me think­ing about other pho­tog­ra­phers and their col­lec­tions.

Var­ied col­lec­tions

Mag­num pho­tog­ra­pher Martin Parr has an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion for his var­ied (and oc­ca­sion­ally odd) col­lec­tions. Tate ac­quired his 12,000-strong pho­to­book col­lec­tion in 2017, but that still leaves him with an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of Sad­dam Hus­sein watches, a vast amount of Mar­garet Thatcher mem­o­ra­bilia, and an eclec­tic mix of hol­i­day sou­venirs and post­cards. The won­der­ful Walker Evans amassed and cat­a­logued some 9,000 pic­ture post­cards dur­ing his life­time, most of them fea­tur­ing or­di­nary Amer­i­can street scenes. His ob­ses­sion was such that he oc­ca­sion­ally sent a card to a friend and then asked for it back to add to his col­lec­tion!

What I find so fas­ci­nat­ing is that these col­lec­tions have clearly in­flu­enced Evans’s and Parr’s work. ‘ What Evans loved about these cards was that they showed plain, di­rect views of places and things,’ says Liz Jobey in The Guardian. This can be seen in his pho­to­graphs of shop fronts, ad­ver­tise­ments and street scenes. Like­wise, Parr’s love of ephemera is echoed in his im­age mak­ing where he seems to ‘col­lect’ food, self­ies and land­marks.

Then there are pho­tog­ra­phers who col­lect pho­to­graphic prints. David Hurn is a great ex­am­ple. Ear­lier this year I saw his ex­hi­bi­tion David Hurn’s Swaps (cu­rated by Parr) at The Pho­tog­ra­phy Show in Birm­ing­ham. Hurn has been a col­lec­tor of pho­to­graphs since 1958 when he hap­pened to be in Trafal­gar Square pho­tograph­ing pi­geons at the same time as Chilean pho­tog­ra­pher Ser­gio Lar­raín. The two be­came friends and Lar­raín gifted Hurn a print of his work. Hurn then be­gan swap­ping prints with artists he ad­mired. His col­lec­tion com­prises more than 600 pic­tures from the likes of Henri Cartier- Bres­son, El­liott Er­witt and Philip Jones Grif­fiths. Form­ing such a col­lec­tion can­not fail to have in­flu­enced his work. Hurn de­vel­oped many friend­ships through his print ex­change and in the run up to the Swaps ex­hi­bi­tion he told Mag­num, ‘I have never cho­sen a print that has not en­riched my life.’ This, I think, sums up the pure joy of col­lect­ing. When you col­lect you make an in­vest­ment - for some this is fi­nan­cial, but for oth­ers it’s emo­tional. For me, that’s where the real value lies. Tracy Calder has more than 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the photo mag­a­zine in­dus­try. She is the co-founder of Closeup Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year, visit

Above: This col­lo­type print en­ti­tled ‘Camel Trot­ting’ comes from Ead­weard Muy­bridge’s An­i­mal Lo­co­mo­tion se­ries, and is one of many im­ages ‘col­lected’ by the V&A

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