The Familiar Looking Strange
People like Joachim Schmid, John Stezaker, Daniel Gordon, Chantal Rens (to just name a few) reactivate found photography to offer the viewer an inexhaustible invitation to deduction, speculation, and fantasy. They are the ‘artists’. But is it not the camera that leaves the photograph contained with a reservoir of meaning that lays suppressed, but not dead, under the weight of the spectacle? And what is so new about that anyways?!
Often found by chance and radically divorced from their original purposes anthropological photographs, ordinary snapshots, movie stills, medical and police pictures and documents alike were already irreverently assigned a new role when appearing in Surrealist journals like La Révolution Surréaliste and Minotaure. Concerns to call on the amoral, equivocal, ambivalent, antiplastic, and accidental elements of photography were also unfolded in the (short-lived) magazine Documents, edited by Georges Bataille. Meanwhile, juxtaposed with the early work of Cartier-Bresson, ‘found’ photos from the Paris Flea Market were exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York as samples of the ‘antigraphic’.
We should be careful not to mould these efforts into a common interest but at least it is safe to say that the anonymity of found photographs functioning as a seductive and irresistible force to address the ‘excrement’ (Bataille) and ‘neglect’ (Benjamin) of our visual experience goes as far back as the 1920s.