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How the lost are found

June 11th, 2012

Reflections on Album: A Public Project

A guest post by Simone Wharton, Digital Content and Publishing Intern. Included throughout are pictures from inside of the albums distributed through the project, along with comments from custodians explaining why they adopted their albums.

Album 281: "Love at first sight."

Album: A Public Project by Max Dean is difficult to describe — is it performance, installation, a photography exhibition, or something completely indefinable? Salvaging albums from garage sales, paper shows, auctions and flea markets, Dean amassed more than 600 albums containing the lives of people he had never met. Some have photographs of first birthdays, family vacations, celebrations; some distinctly Canadian — deer in Banff, skating on homemade rinks, snow piles, old Toronto streets, summers in Muskoka, trips to Niagara Falls; and others contain fascinating histories from Scotland, Northern Europe or East Asia.

Dean realized that these albums were too precious for one person to hold onto. He had to find new, willing and enthusiastic custodians for these rejected, discarded or lost photo albums. Thus the FotoBug came into existence, a means to deliver these albums to photo-enthusiasts, dabbling archivists, artists and everyday Torontonians.

Album 384: "The person in the album, I believe, is a singer. She is speaking to me. I do not know why yet. But time will tell."

The most enchanting element of this month-long project has been watching and listening to people’s reactions as they peruse the albums and finally come across the one that they just cannot part with. They are an eclectic group, these unwitting custodians, and in observing them I feel there are four categories that many of them fall into.

There are the SKEPTICS who enter into the fray apprehensive and cautious. They try to be nonchalant as they browse the albums, slowly becoming more involved and absorbed as the stories unfold before their eyes. When they finally choose an album, they appear slightly incredulous of how quickly they have been transformed by this multilayered project.

The ENTHUSIASTS are very different, descending upon the FotoBug like kids in a candy store. And when they’ve found their albums, they present them like golden tickets to Max Dean, Mr. Willy Wonka himself. They depart quickly with their prize, unable to wait, wanting to delve into the treasures inside.

Album 303: "It is an album full of baby pictures and I never had a baby - but love them - so it is now 'my' baby album."

Then we have the FASTIDIOUS SELECTORS — the fascinated observers, looking carefully through each album, unable to decide, enchanted by a photo here, drawn to a cover there, but finding nothing that speaks to them… yet. They might be a little harder to please, but eventually they too fall in love with an album, and they hold on tight, before it slips through their grasp.

Last but not least, are the FATED. In these encounters it is the album that chooses the custodian, falling into their laps at just the right moment. From these people we hear heartbreaking, touching and emotional personal stories. These photographs hold dreams yet to be fulfilled, memories of distant or departed friends, mirrored lives or family members they wish they had known, days past and undetermined futures. These “fated” custodians shed new light on what we are giving people, on what these albums might represent to their new custodians and what they might have meant to their original owners.

Album 127: "This album looks just like all of the albums I used to look at of my parents when they were growing up."

This is the magic of the FotoBug. As the conversations build on Facebook, discoveries are being made, histories mapped out, original album owners are being found, the magic continues. It has been an incredible journey, and I am lucky that I was able to be a part of it.

Album 140: "It was all beat up, and alone at the bottom."

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