Sunday 17 May 2015

The Curiosity Collector

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” 
Phillip Pullman


Ever since I was young, I've always harboured a rather peculiar fascination with other people's photos. 
In my teenage years, I loved nothing better than heading down to Snooper's Paradise in Brighton - an incredible Aladdin's cave of second hand and vintage treasures - and poring over the memorabilia inside.  And without fail, each time I would come away with a little, thick brown envelope.

Because dotted around the shop in huge ornate suitcases, lay hundreds upon hundreds of old photographs. Gathered by donation, house clearances or simply just stumbled upon, the photographs have come from the furthest reaches of time and space, and have somehow all ended up huddled together inside these suitcases.

For me, the pull was irresistible. 

I'd spend hours sifting through them, my mind absolutely raving imagining the stories behind them all, and the people who'd lived them. And every now and then I'd come across a photo, and for no real explainable reason, I'd find myself bizarrely drawn to it, and know I had to have it. So I'd take my little collection to the till, and at 10p a piece take home another plethora of inherited memories, a cacophony of curiosity. 

My mother delighted in informing me it was a very creepy habit whenever I showed her a new haul.

But I was then, am now, and I'm sure will always be, absolutely fascinated beyond measure by the mystery and ambiguity of other people's lives, and the unique stories that come with them. 

It's the true divine and infinite inspiration.

My entire existence orbits around the indescribable magic of storytelling, and I as a human a bodily manifestation of that passion - I live a story that I create and live to share it too. Every day is a new scene,  every chance meeting or happening a chance for a plot twist, every sorrow and downfall a necessity for character development. 

I am simply a protagonist of my own creation. 

As each of us, in essence, individually are.

Recently my passion for old photographs has lead me toward the machines themselves - analogue photography. I've fallen completely in love with shooting 35mm film photos, and have amassed an alarming collection of cameras after discovering the most incredible local car boot sale.

At this very same car boot sale last weekend, whilst keeping an eye out for any old film or camera accessories, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a tatty camera bag overflowing with miscellaneous pieces. To my excited surprise, inside were TWO old Canon SLR bodies and a bunch of lenses. 

"Six pound for the lot, love." 

The stall owner called out, nodding toward the bag in my hands whilst carefully stepping around the rows and rows of bric-a-brac laid out on blankets beside his car.

I don't think I have ever thrown my money at someone with such gleeful enthusiasm.

I already had a 50mm lens which I'd bought for my Cannon 600D (when that was THE go-to blogger camera) and could barely contain my excitement about trying it out on film.

A lens adapter, some pretty niche batteries and a hefty amazon parcel of 35mm film multipacks later, Greg and I were snapping away with our thrifted finds and were soon waiting with painstaking anticipation to get our first reels back from the developers.

Suffice it to say, we were not disappointed.

But during our excited babble of pretty much losing our shit at how incredible the pictures had turned out, to our great surprise, we discovered something incredibly unexpected and almost painfully awesome, too.

We were not the only souls taking up residence on that 35mm film.

Before these two cameras had somehow made their way, disassembled in a tatty bag of spare parts, to a ramshackle little car boot sale in Hertfordshire, it turned out they had lead pretty interesting lives.

And here, completely unexpectedly, we had the proof. 

I was absoloutely struck dumb. 

We'd unintentionally been the ones to finally wake the sleeping characters lying dormant on celluloid for countless years, and discovered a complete stranger's holiday of a summer long past. 

After some thorough studying for clues, the text on the side of the crate in the final photo revealed that they were in, or at least near Alicante, a sunny province in South-East Spain. 

But it was the second to last picture which really gripped me - the characters enjoying what looks like a sunset dinner at their villa. Because right at the bottom of the picture is the shadow - of what appears to be the bikini-clad woman of a few photos above - actually taking the photo on the very same camera I now held in my hands, alongside the actual photo that she was taking right then, but never got to see, because it never came into being until we in 2015 completed the film and got it developed.  

I can't really explain it, it just sent a beautiful, wondrous chill up my spine.

But that was not all. 

There was a second camera.

And that was when it got even more bizarre.

What came back from this film could not have been more surprising, or more of a startling juxtaposition to the other film.

Because what began as a happy summer holiday on the Spanish coast, ended at a World War II Nazi death camp in Poland;


And we were greeted with a new character, this man, the only person featured on the second film.

This was almost too much to handle.

How on earth had these two cameras come from Poland and Spain in what looks like the 80's/90's, and remained untouched for decades, only to end up being picked up by me at a car boot sale in Hertfordshire in 2015?

 How did these two cameras, with completely unrelated content end up as a pair?

Did the characters in each know one another? 

Had they ever met? Passed one another at the airport, completely oblivious that their lives would one day bizarrely intersect via me?

Had I ever met any of the people in these pictures?

Why were both the films incomplete, mid-trip?!

The questions were pouring out me, and the equal magic and torment was that I will never, ever know the answer to any of them.

Behind these photos are real people. Behind these photos are whole lives.

Behind these photos is so many stories.

And I guess that's what I always loved about old photographs in the first place; wild, boundless speculation and wonder - the possibilities about what was actually doing on behind them is infinite.
These people could be anyone, they could be anywhere, they might not even be alive anymore, yet the universe has worked in the mysterious ways that it does, and for some reason, our fates have been inexplicably intertwined, and these people have become a part of my life.

And, I don't know, maybe I'm just too sentimental and am prone to being a dreamer - but to me, that is simply magic. 

All I have is my ceaseless curiosity, my fiery imagination and my passion for storytelling to put the little pieces together, and whether I'm close to the reality or I couldn't be further away, it doesn't matter at all.

Because stories, after all, are just dreaming out loud.

And I can't imagine the day I will ever not be blown away, but the profound mystery of other people's lives.