‘Cannibalizing Photography’ and An Update on An Anthology: Photobooks on Found Photographs

In his chapter ‘Cannibalizing Photography’, published in the recently released third volume of The Photobook: A History, Gerry Badger presents a wide-ranging selection of photobooks by artists and author-photographers who ‘feed of the art of the past’. I like the term ‘cannibalizing’ much better, being less cryptic, than the sophisticated art-historical term ‘appropriating’. ‘Cannibalizing’ goes well with the notion ‘vernacular photography’ which is in many such cases the source material for photobooks on found photographs, and covers the quest and selection procedures involved in ruminating swarms of images from archives, collections, repositories and the Internet. In a nutshell, the chapter is displaying, according to Badger: ‘a photobook genre that is enjoying an increasing vogue in the twenty-first century in which visual imagery of all kind is pillaged, reworked refabricated by photographic artists’. Key examples dating from 1943 until 2012 show different approaches: from parody to paraphrase, from intervention and surrogate to storyline. State-of-the-art example is War Primer 2 by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.

In this update on my FilemakerPro database in progress (containing as of today 141 titles)  ‘An Anthology: Photobooks on Found Photographs’, I selected for discussion on this post 4 book titles from this chapter, and 5 more. I will start with the latter. Each book, categorized and carrying a unique database number, is represented by an image of the front cover and/or a spread, as well as a short annotation or ‘found text’, signifying the content of the photobook. Selected quotes are in color.

In the database booktechnical information and photohistorical references are sorted in fields. Different categories are created, related to strategies of editing and selecting. Indexes are made. A typology of photobooks on found photographs is the result. Subcategories indicate e.g. the different genres of photography represented in these books, from ideological war photography to encyclopaedic imagery. The origin of the material retrieved is noted, be it a menu card in a Chinese restaurant or reproductions out of books on Adolf Hitler from a private collector, a former pathologist.

What all books selected for this anthology have in common is that they are ‘organized with humor and intelligence’. These publications are the result of attempts to deal with new artists’ strategies towards the narrative and authorship. And in doing so, the documentators, the editors, are working towards shifting intersections between art-as-photography, advertising, the private versus the public and politics. These photographers-as-editors take into account the vast quantity of images that western culture produces, be it corporate reports, family albums from World War II, or stills from old home movies. In many cases this kind of photobook is compiled from images that are categorized, and sorted over time within the personal archive of the documentator.



RE-made, RE-worked, RE-vived found photographs


fractures cover Ofer Wolberger

Wolbergers-fractures photo page


Fractures is a sophisticated cultbook, on black matt paper and obscure in appearance. The artists’ book, pocket size, is number 10 of a series called ’12 books’ by Ofer Wolferberger, founder of Horses Think Press. Wolberger reworked found medical photography, instructional material, showing HOW TO apply plaster in numbered figures and different body positions. The faces of models, all male – dressed in pyjama’s or trench coats, or half naked – are erased, which adds to the absurdity of what is depicted. Grainy pictures, show installations with tables, chairs and broom sticks, which makes the scenes even more surrealistic in nature. Large and small body parts are covered with plaster. Sober white typography on a black fond, for the title, figures and a listing of ‘materials, symptoms and signs’ in the back of the booklet.


COLLECTIONS of found (digital) photography/film and SELECTIONS of vernacular (digital) photography/film

ping-pong cover


This cute and tight booklet is not to be confused with Ping Pong Conversations by Francesco Zanot, which is a text manual on Soth’s oeuvre, based on conversations with the photographer. It came out more or less at the same time as Ping Pong which is a brilliant selection of vernacular photography on table tennis, selected by Alec Soth. Mostly covering ping pong as a recreational sport at home in sport halls, or in basements, some local competitions, candy product or advertising photography included. Both the photographs and the words contain a punch. With revealing short nostalgic reflections on the game by Dyer and Iyer in different colors typeface and different font size. Exquisite printing and interleaved with glossy varnished pages. A playful lay-out it is, in primary colors red, yellow, blue and green.

pingpong A Soth spread


A.S.: Ha. Yes, for the last few years, I’ve been the pre-eminent collector of Ping-Pong pictures on eBay. But the publication of the book marks the end, hopefully, of that obsession. God knows I have enough pictures. The book shows only a fraction of my collection. I love the pictures and loved acquiring them, but that alone wasn’t enough to make a book. I needed to energize it somehow … I needed players! A while I ago I learned that the great British author, Geoff Dyer, was not only an expert on photography but was also a big fan of table tennis. So I asked Geoff to write something. In his first draft, he mentioned an ongoing competition with his fellow writer Pico Iyer. With that, I realized I had structure for the book: two writers having a dialog about the game they love. From: Will Shortz, ‘Two table tennis obsessions go back and forth’, The New York Times (6th Floor blog) published September 20, 2013. Consulted on April 10, 2014.



RE-made, RE-worked, RE-vived found photographs

180 graden spread


Reproduced, Re-worked and altered content of the ‘dictionnaire encyclopédique pour tous’ Petit Larousse en couleurs, Paris 1973) by Laurence Aegerter. 180 degrees is Including contemporary snapshots, documentary photographs, urban landscapes integrated in Larouse lay-out. The pictures are taken in a 180 degree turn from the actual described object. Contributions from different photographers are included. Reproduction starts at page 993.






My friend Thomas Erdbrink lives in Iran and subscribes to the ‘Islamic’ edition of NRC Handelsblad. When the sealed newspaper lands on his doormat in Tehran, its contents have already been secretly checked by the Iranian authorities. They do so seeking images that are unsuitable for the eyes of inhabitants of the Islamic Republic. Forbidden items used to be carefully suppressed using scissors, a ruler and blue stickers. Photos would be left intact insofar as possible, only covering the parts that were absolutely necessary. Each civil servant would go to work with scissors and stickers in their own way. The quantity of bare leg that could be shown seemed to vary for no apparent reason, and sometimes the odd picture of genitals would slip through unnoticed. A year ago, the blue stickers stopped appearing. For reasons unknown, the newspaper is no longer censored in this way. And so, as a mark of respect, I now present the best examples of old-fashioned censorship, handcrafted by Iranian civil servants – Jan Dirk van der Burg. From: [MOTTO], ‘Censorship Daily Netherlands Iran. Jan Dirk van der Berg’, posted 24 November 2012. Consulted on March 13, 2013. Read more


TYPOLOGIES, indexes, encyclopaedic GRIDS


“Nulla da Dire, or nothing to say, consists of ten annual volumes of daily collected photographs derived from Italian newspapers ” La Republica” and “La Corriera della Sera”. Each volume represents a selection of more than 300 photographs of one year, based on two criteria: non-sensational and non-sport. It appeared that very few women passed the selection. The artist decided to keep the series male images and collect the female images for one volume on females, after ten years of collecting”. From: Johan Deumens, Catalogue of Artists’ books Johan Deumens Gallery, Amsterdam, Update February 2013.

nulla da dire cover paus

nulla da dire women

Nulla da Dire is an artists’ book on found photography par excellence. Yellow flyleafs, roughly cut outs of newspaper photographs on a white page. An encylcopaedic survey of gesticulating Italian and international politicians. Besides Gadhaffi, George Bush senior you may find hardly any international politicians in Volume I. In Volume VI newspaper clips show gesticulation of political men (Giscard d’Estain, Yasser Arafat, Sadam Housein, Umberto Ossi, Bill Clinton, Boris Jeltsin) .In Volume VII appears Fidel Castro, Pope Johannes Paulus, George W. Bush, Boris Jeltsin, a black African leader. The number of pictures per volume is: 284. Except for Volume XI a unique volume on women politicians (1988-2000). Volume XI contains newspaper clips showing gesticulation with hands of political power women (Princes Diana, Chicolina, Margaret Tatcher, Hillary Clinton, Bhuto). One Xerox per page (on the right). Some press photos of political heads are detached. This is the final volume of the series Nulla da Dire, and the only one devoted to women. Read more

And here a selection of 4 photobooks represented in both The Photobook: A History Volume III (2014) and in the database in progress An Anthology: Photobooks on Found Photographs. 

COLLECTIONS of found (digital) photography/film and SELECTIONS of vernacular (digital) photography/film   

SSavages frnt036

SSavages bck037


Leafing through Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine’s The Significant Savages is like looking through a visual telephone book: the book is composed entirely of abstract information, printed on thin paper, about people the reader does not know. The images here all culled from social networking sites, describe the sites’ users not through their actual physicality (there are no standard head shots) but rather through the images – of pop idols, sports heroes, muscle cars, sunsets, pets – they have chosen to stand in for themselves. The Significant Savages consists of four chapters, plus an epilogue, and has been organized with humor and intelligence. The book is arranged by color – think of a Pantone fan or Peter Fischli & David Weiss’s Visible World (Sichtbare Welt) by gradient visual jokes and mini-narratives. To homogenize and further abstract the appropriated images, Pujade-Lauraine output them in bitmap form, with visible pixels, surrounding them with thin white borders. There is no text, save a declaration of intent printed on the bellyband and a colophon, lending The Significant Savages a clear appearance like that of an artist’s book. From: Sebastian Arthur Hau, ‘The Significant Savages’, posted November 25, 2011, consulted on January 12, 2012.

RE-made, RE-worked, RE-vived found photographs

the third person archive cover front

the third person archive spread


The ‘Third Person’ archive begins in the mid-seventies with a probing of these new allegiances – in an encounter with Surrealism. (The ‘Third Person’ archive is a collection of images which were in circulation in the 1920’s and 30’s, at the time of surrealism). Stezaker has described this archive as an opportunity for “time travel”. Predominantly a collection of incidental figures from topographical photographs, mostly overlooked (even by the original photographer), their isolation is a strange act of retrieval. “I am aware that the people in these pictures have long since been dust in these pre-tarmaced streets”*… “It is like an act of posthumous voyeurism”, tracing their forgotten journeys in the urban labyrinth. From: Anonymous, ‘pressrelease. John Stezaker. The Third person Archive’, The Approach, 11th November – 19th December 2004,  Read more

TYPOLOGIES, indexes, encyclopaedic GRIDS

kim jong il cover

Kim Jong II foto


‘Kim Jong Il looking at things’ is the eponymous title of a photoblog that took the Internet by storm. Created by João Rocha, an art director at an advertising firm in Lisbon, the blog is a collection of photographs which depict the ‘Dear Leader’ of North Korea apparently engaged in the act of looking. Since its creation in October 2010, every few days Rocha posts a photograph appropriated from the Korean Central News Agency. These photographs consistently focus on Kim Jong Il who stands in the centre of the image as his loyal countrymen and women obligingly introduce him to a person of interest, a product, a machine, a new invention, an animal, a food item, a vegetable or indeed anything else that can be looked at. From: Marco Bohr, ‘Introduction’, Kim Jong Il Looking at Things, Paris 2013.


RE-made, RE-worked, RE-vived found photographs

mrs merryman front009

merryman spread


Anne Sophie Merryman’s book Mrs. Merryman’s Collection purports to be a collection of postcards inherited from her grandmother, who passed away before she was born and shares her name, but all is not as it seems. Collected from the late-30s until the 80s, the postcards were never sent or received by Merryman’s grandmother, but collected over the years for their striking imagery. Bearing stamps and postmarks from Spain, France and Africa, the postcards come from all over the world. Each postcard is shown full-size with the front on one page and the back presented on the reverse page. This simple design replicates the act of paging through a pile of postcards, but also allows you to read the messages and savour the physicality of each postcard. Although not all have messages, when they do, the correspondences are usually cryptic or cursory and reveal little about the images. Written in French, Spanish or English, the flowing script is often hard to read or indecipherable. […] The pictures themselves are incredibly strange and don’t resemble any postcards you’re likely to encounter in even the most well-hidden or remote flea market or antique shop. After all, who makes a postcard of someone delicately laying out a piece of paper, a stuffed monkey head, a hand gently touching a mirror, or a ventriloquist dummy? Small, precious and unnerving, they more often resemble the poetic work of Masao Yamamoto than the kinds of vernacular postcards that shuttled back and forth across the globe in the mid-20th century. Unlike postcards you might find, the images and their subject in the book are rarely identified. Rather than offering exotic or prosaic views of distant lands, the images are a series of surreal puzzles and non-sequiturs.[…] Who are Anne Sophie Merryman and her grandmother? Are these real postcards? Where did she get them? Do the two women even exist? Or is it all the creation of another artist – a matryoshka doll of artistic conceits, layered and perplexing to untangle? Merryman exploits our desire to believe these images and her story to hook us, to convince us that each side of the postcard have always been joined and are not a transmutation, a collaborative half-truth of the past and present.’ From: Adam Bell, ‘bookreview Mrs. Merryman’s Collection’, posted August 14, 2012. Consulted on January 30, 2013.

    • You’re welcome. I do hope the database will be in book form in the near future. Any suggestions are welcome. Thanks much, Mirelle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s