You’re at a flea/antique/street market and you walk by a box of old photos – a common sight, at least at the places I visit. Do you stop and dig through the box filled with hundreds of memories, or move on hoping something catches your eye a little easier. I normally walk on – but there are those that stay.
I came across Doug’s eBay page whilst on the usual search for vintage clothing, it was the clothes that brought me to him. It was here, when I went looking for what else he had on offer that I noticed listings for old photos – lots of them. It was plain to see that these were no ordinary old pictures, like the ones in the crates. These pictures had a certain narrative to them – friends fooling around in D.B. suits, family barbecues, race car meets etc. They look as if they were all shot by the same photographer – but this is not the case. Doug curates these photos, spending time scouring fayres, markets and boots sales in, more often than not, dusty photo boxes, in order to offer a look into the past through his eyes. A few months after coming across Doug’s profile, I decided to contact him to find out more about what he does.
Where are you based?
I’m from Seattle, Washington originally, where I began collecting photographs in the mid 1980s. In the 1990s I spent a few years in Indiana, where I began to more actively making my own photos in a small bathroom darkroom. I have now been in Phoenix, Arizona for several years now.
You describe yourself more of a collector than a dealer – when did you start collecting all these pictures?
Actually, for some time now I have described myself as a more of a dealer than collector. As I mentioned above, I started collecting photos in the 1980s. At the time I was collecting Arts & Crafts era decorative arts of all sorts. So I was looking for pictorialist style photographs of the same era. As these were not plentiful, my collection was very small. No more than I could hang on a couple walls. At that time I did buy a fabulous small amateur snapshot of a late Victorian era family lounging on the rocks above Snoqualmie Falls near Seattle. I suppose that photo planted the seed for collecting vernacular photography. But, a growing interest in doing my own photography supplanted my collecting for several years. It was about 15 years ago when I began attending a local auction house in Phoenix that I started to actively collect albums or boxes of family snapshots.
Is this your main job? If not, what line of work are you in?
I’ve had a rather checkered employment history. My last “career” was in the insurance business. But that ended in 2008. Since, I began collecting in the 1980s I have always been a bit a dealer as well. Since 2008, the dealing has overtaken the collecting. until 2013, my wife owned small shop specializing in mid-century modern decorative arts & furniture. I have also collected and sold vintage men’s clothing for many years. But in the last months the photos have been my primary concern.
What is it you look for when you are on the hunt?
Volume. I do buy individual photos and neatly curated albums. But I much prefer to discover paper gems in a large jumbled box of loose disorganized photos. While digging I look for uncommon or abstract composition, interesting expressions or gestures, and photographic “mistakes” such as poor framing or double exposures. Because of my interest in vintage clothing, I also look for people in interesting attire. Photos of people with cameras are also always good. And I have special fondness for photobooth photos, the original “selfie”. The photo booth photos are the only photos that almost never end up in the sell box. I suppose aesthetic tastes are rather eclectic. And since my interest is so varied, I just hope there will be buyers that will share at least one of them.
You do sell these photos, where can we find them?
I sell them primarily on eBay – http://stores.ebay.co.uk/ACME-Vintage-Dry-Goods. Or you can follow me on Instagram at – @cotton_eyed_doug