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Sunday, 1.9.05: Photo shows 1982-1988

Going through old photos and my old lists reminds me of the days when Jim and I used to load up the car and traipse to photographica shows. I see by my handwritten lists that I was selling vintage photographs between 1982 and 1988. It surprises me that my little business was so sustained. It also surprises me that I sold so much -- scores of old photos.

Like everything I've ever done, the work was labor intensive.

This was the height of Jim's collecting in photographica: old camera, paraphernalia, and photos. I was tagging along till I got the impulse to rehab beat up old images through archival matting. Sometimes I had to figure out how to remove the photo from evil acidic mounting boards. The process never made silk purses out of sows ears, but bargain bin discards now had an upscale gloss.

When I think back to those days, I have to laugh at the contrast between us. Our half-joking business card labeled me "merchant and artisan," while Jim was "collector and connoisseur." I labored long and hard to make beautiful presentations of low-end images. Jim was also selling "low-end," but his merchandise was culled from a growing and very sophisticated collection.

The photo shows were usually a mixture of "image people" and "camera people." The hours before a show opened to the public were usually a frenzy of exchanges among the sellers. A few of them got to know Jim. They'd come by, talk, and cash would appear. By the end of any given show, my memory tells me Jim would finish with upwards of $800. I would finish with $0 - $85. Once, maybe, I hit the jackpot and made $200.

What was the difference? Jim had a more varied stock, including little gewgaws he'd pick up at flea markets in upstate NY that he knew would be popular with big city dealers. More importantly, Jim was operating out of his relentless passion for things of beauty and rarity. Most of his stock were things he had once cared enough about to include in his collection. They were all little treasures, even if he had now replaced them with something a little better.

Back then, as now, I was running the orphanage. I was buying up the dirty old sets of images from the dealers' backrooms, the ones on crumbling cards that they wouldn't have bought in the first except for one good picture among them that had already been sold off. I must have had passion for the enterprise or I wouldn't have lasted 6 years. But my passion was for rehabilitation and getting the items into the hands of someone who would love them. Oh my God, I was a social worker!

Eventually, we ran out of steam. Those were the days before the World Wide Web and ebay and I wasn't finding myself in the path of many "orphans," so my merchandise gradually shrank to the few items I'm looking at now. And Jim's collector's eye was focusing on new vistas.

I can't believe that was twenty years ago!


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