Collectors come in all shapes and sizes, from the low-budget amateur whose passion for vintage postcards of Niagara Falls keeps her up at night perusing online auction sites (who me?) to the wealthy patron of the arts whose collection started as an investment and resulted in a surprising affinity for the artists they support. Collections then reflect these many inclinations, nuances and personalities of their owners. In all cases, the deep personal connection that exists between Collectors and the objects they collect is strongly evident. Each acquired object has been given an additional lifeline to its many different histories, or in the case of contemporary art, its first trajectory into these private spheres. The practice of collecting creates and expands an intricate web of connections and contexts between makers and consumers that makes collecting much more than just a desire to acquire pretty things.
The personal connection to the collector is often fascinating and can include a subject that the collector is passionate about or in many cases a deeper unstated connection that evokes emotion and meaning and a recognition of the immense value of the artwork for this role. In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes wrote about the nature of photographs and their ability to ‘puncture’ the gaze – he distinguished two forces that operate in a photograph: the Studium or the photograph’s aspect of broad or obvious interest, such as time frame, architecture, people and other symbolic details, and the Punctum, or the part of the photograph that seizes, literally “pierces” the viewer, breaks through and engages the emotions. It is often this personal revelation that inspires someone to collect and acquire an object that has had an emotional resonance, resulting in unique collections specific to the individual. The narratives these collections create over time discuss both the innate qualities about the collector and the role of collecting in our everyday lives.
Recently I have been working with private collectors in Toronto in managing their art collections and I have also conducted a series of lectures at various photography clubs, including the Photographic Historic Society of Canada, and the Toronto Postcard Club. These clubs provide a wonderful opportunity to meet a variety of photo-enthusiasts who are extremely dedicated to photography and collecting very specific aspects of its past. In working with such a variety of collectors, what I’ve realized is the significant role these objects play in the lives of the collector and creating a rich tapestry of information and connection to both the past and current cultural contexts. With this comes the desire to acquire as much information as possible about preserving and understanding their photo-collections. This has inspired me to share my knowledge in a series of blog posts. It is my hope that collectors seeking knowledge about ways to preserve, document and share their vibrant collections can acquire some helpful advice through this blog. I am open to questions and dialogue and welcome comments on your own collecting practices. I encourage collectors and hobbyists to ask themselves what drives you to collect, and what meaning does collecting bring to your own lives?