Collectable Cultural Gold or Street Debris?

Collectable Cultural Gold or Street Debris?

Have you ever found a lost love note and read it? Maybe it wasn’t even a love note, but a personal letter not meant to be read by others that enticed your attention. When presented with the opportunity to peak into someone else’s personal life, it can be extremely difficult to restrain from our natural curiosity. Is a picture really that different from a personal note? A picture can speak volumes by visually capturing an expression, a time in history, a place, a moment, or even a secret. The wealth of information that can be absorbed by this visual documentation is the great draw of photography and the reason why we place so much value in pictures. Whether we collect and store pictures in leather-bound albums or shoe boxes, each picture has a history and is essentially a conduit through which one can peak into the life of another.

What happens when pictures are lost or discarded and found ownerless? Pablo Cruz Aguirre has created an online gallery of just that; pictures he found in trash bins or on the streets of Buenos Aires. His website is called “100% basura porteña” or “100% trash from Buenos Aires.” He has scanned in a large collection of these “found” pictures and displayed them on his site for anyone who happens to run across “Fotos en Contradas” (Found Pictures) and is enticed to browse through the collection and essentially open a window into the private life of strangers.

Aguirre addresses possible doubts and questions concerning his collecting process by explaining that Article No. 2526 of the Argentine Civil Code states that “such images are regarded within the category of things abandoned by their owners” and that Article No. 2412 states that “abandoned things can be taken by whoever desires it, being their sole possession enough title of property.” However, Aguirre later explains that if he is provided with a justified reason for the removal of a picture, he would respect the request. Lastly he clearly states that every picture posted on the site is one that he personally found discarded in the street. The pictures are placed into groupings on the site including portraits, couples, vacations, pieces of pictures, social/family life, etc.

Regardless of if these pictures were abandoned, misplaced, or specifically thrown away, they are tiny bursts of history and artistic expression, both intentional and unintentional. It is highly likely that the original owners of these pictures would not consider them to be collectable items, however, once grouped together and displayed by Pablo, the compilation is fascinating and thought-provoking. It gives the observer that same feeling of peaking into the personal life an unknown person without their knowledge. Whether that is morally sound or not is another question, but I believe we can come to the general conclusion that the “spying” element of examining pictures with a blank history is alluring. It provides the observer with a culturally-relevant and historical hodgepodge of visual information about the inhabitants of Buenos Aires that is unconventional and therefore worth exploring. Although the site says “100% trash,” these “found” pictures have, without a doubt, real collectable value.

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