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
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.
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 www.cupoty.com.
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