I hoard therefore I am. I’ve made that joke for years…decades even. And it’s true – I just can’t throw anything away.
But I like to think of it as artful archiving of life’s moments (at least that's what I tell myself).
Mostly, I love surrounding myself with old things and find it grounding to reconnect with the past via the possessions and keepsakes I’ve amassed over the years.
Who doesn’t, right?
The Records And Tapes
Probably the most ever-present aspect of any space I’ve occupied since high school is my record/tape collection.
Like most people, music has been an obsession for as long as I can remember and the records and tapes have been a constant marker of time and memories at every stage of life. Having moved country several times, the collection got spread far and wide over various continents, garages and attics, so it’s nice having them all back in one place and within arms reach.
From the first record I saved up for in high school (Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate) to a plethora of reissues and boxsets in recent years (PJ Harvey’s reissues have been A+), there’s still no greater joy than rediscovering an LP I’ve neglected for years putting it on and leafing through the sleeve artwork.
I recently opened a record to discover a smeared footprint from one of my dad’s greyhounds on the inner sleeve and was immediately taken back to the day ‘Honcho’ tore into my room and sent my Tortoise LP to the floor.
Special mention to the tapes that lived in my walkman through high school, especially the mixtapes friends made me that I’ve still kept.
The Setlists (And More)
I have boxes and boxes of concert tickets, setlists, wrist bands and passes, letters from high school friends, tour advert clippings from music street press, all going way back. It’s like a time machine back to a lot of precious moments. I recently read through a bunch of old high school letters and was struck by how enthusiastic teenagers are about the smallest of things, a great reminder.
My favorite has to be the setlists. I spent a part of my 20s in London obsessively going to gigs and photographing indie bands, and while the photos are a treasure trove that runs deep, the setlists I nabbed offer a more abstract record. Each one is unique on random pieces of paper (or napkins) and handwritten by each band, often reading like strange codewords to be deciphered.
The standout has to be a June of 44 setlist from the Annandale Hotel, Sydney in late 1999. That June of 44 show was a real highlight for a kid growing up in a place where very few bands from the northern hemisphere would regularly tour.
The abbreviated song names conjure mysterious images of anatomy and sea travel. And I’ve carried that setlist around the globe and put it on many a wall.
Funnily enough, June of 44 recently reformed and played a show in LA a few weeks back. Sadly I didn't get the setlist this time round...
The Backyard Artifacts
Over the last few years, I’ve been amassing a collection of random objects I keep digging up in our backyard. It started with a handful of marbles and quickly grew from there. I’ve found old toy figures, broken porcelain statues, old coins from around the globe, a silver spoon, various bones (including the jaw of a small mammal), and two coin moulds for minting the state seal of California.
It’s been fun identifying some of the more interesting pieces and I often wonder about the kid that lost or buried a lot of this stuff.
One of my favorite finds is two space figures, which I worked out came from a 1952 Tom Corbett Space Academy set. The more yard we cleared, the more we found so I started keeping them in an old medical cabinet. This was directly inspired by my love of museum display cabinets, in particular an artwork I became obsessed with when I first moved to London titled Tate Thames Dig by Marc Dion; basically a wood display cabinet filled with objects and artifacts found at low tide along the banks of the Thames River.
I’ve always loved the idea of time capsules (like that scene in Amelie when she finds an old box of kids toys behind a loose tile).
I like to think I’m creating my own little historical record of past occupants of our house. At the very least it adds a nice layer of fun to planting tomatoes in the backyard.
I just know there’s another marble out there waiting for me.
It’d be hard not to mention the cameras.
I find cameras to be beautiful objects and another strange form of visual diary of my life. I’ve kept almost every camera I’ve ever used and each one conjures memories of specific time periods and places. A few remind me of specific friends (in particular, Foals, who I spent years following around photographing on tour).
From my first SLR (Nikon FG-20) to an old Canon I carried around the world backpacking to the plethora of cameras I’ve snuck into gigs over the years (Horizon, Widelux, Holga). Even the super 8 camera I shot one of my first music videos on (Nizo s800).
I still use quite a few and it’s fun bringing the older ones out of retirement from time to time. The sensation of putting an old camera back in your hand is such a powerful feeling. The muscle memory returns and my mind is instantly transported, like meeting up with an old friend.
Plus ‘vintage’ film cameras just look quite nice, innit?
The Family Photos
Over the last few years, I started preserving old family photographs from Hong Kong where my Dad and uncles grew up. What started as a functional exercise in scanning old family photos (my uncle entrusted me with preserving them and I plan to print a book for everyone in the family) became quite a meditative journey and one that reconnected me with that side of my ancestry.
What I didn’t expect was the connection I would feel with a grandmother I never got to meet.
With each image, I scanned and began working on I felt like I got to know her a little better - and consequently, better understand the grief my Dad and uncles experienced losing her quite young. There’s one image in particular of her sitting in tall grass by a single tree in the background, that I am constantly drawn back to. It's a great photo and a beautiful memory of her.
Preserving the collection (and hopefully printing it for all my cousins) has become an ongoing project and one that has illuminated a lot about myself and where one-half of my family comes from.
The Smiley Faces
At first glance, the two wooden smiley faces hanging on the wall seem trivial at best - but they’re not. For years they hung in the room I shared with my brother growing up, and I find it comforting to look up at them from time to time.
Aesthetically I can’t say they’re my thing, but they remind me of my bro and all the childhood fun we got up to on our bunk beds – getting lost in LEGO builds, playing with Transformers and He-Man toys, recording silly voices on tapes (yup still got those), and discovering music as we approached our teenage years and eventually moved into separate rooms.
Those faces stared down over most of my childhood and keep me connected to where I’m from and the childlike wonder my brother and I shared growing up. At times I find Los Angeles can be a fairly lonely place, especially over the last few years, but those stupid smiley faces crack me up every time without fail.
I’ll forget about them for days and then they’ll catch my eye for a moment unexpectedly and in an instant, I’m five years old again.