Not Collected, ed. Lukas Birk and Audrey Salmon

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Fraglich Publishing (here). Hardcover (6 × 7.75 inches), 195 pages, with 157 color photographs. Includes an essay in English and Zulu. In an edition of 150 copies. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)

Comments/Background: Fraglich Publishing, a small publishing house initiated by Austrian photographer Lukas Birk, focuses on projects at the crossroads of photographic archives and storytelling. Birk has spent the past decade researching photography in China, South and Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

In one of his many projects, he created the Photographic Archive of Myanmar. Working closely with a team of local collaborators, Birk helped create a large-scale archiving platform of photographic records from Myanmar, ranging from studio portraits and private photo albums to business records and scientific research photography, dating back to the 1890s. Yangon Fashion 1979 – Fashion=Resistancepublished in 2020 (revised here), brings together a selection of studio photographs from Burma dating back to the 1970s, showing the role played by fashion in stimulating the imagination and a personal form of rebellion. Fraglich books are generally produced directly in the region featured in the book, using local materials and offering a fair price to local communities.

Fraglich’s most recent photobook is titled Not collected and was edited by Birk with Audrey Salmon, a French artist and PhD student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The book offers insight into the local communities around Johannesburg just before the end of apartheid (the government system of racial segregation). The book is based on an archive of photographs that Salmon found in a frame and poster shop owned by Ravi Lalla and located around the corner from his own home in Jeppestown, a suburb of Johannesburg.

Lalla opened his business in 1978 and for decades developed and framed photographs brought in by the people who worked in Jeppestown. typically these people traveled to the area from other locations. With the end of apartheid, the movement of people also changed, and many of his clients did not return for their photographs and left no phone number to contact them. For more than three decades and until recently, Lalla kept the archives in the box. Not collected brings together this forgotten part of history, sharing in the form of a book the photographs “not collected” by their owners.

Not collected is a relatively small, intimate and easy to hold book. The cover photograph appears in a dark blue frame and depicts a young woman in sunglasses wearing a colorful jacket with orange flowers just behind her. The frame is a thoughtful design element, a nod to Lalla’s frame shop. The color photographs inside are printed full bleed, sometimes surrounded by a colored border. There are no captions, no names, no dates, and no places along the photographs, rather they form a continuous visual flow providing a collective image of that time.

The photographs included in the publication were taken between 1985 and 1999, and they document many moments of joy and pride in people’s lives, regardless of the political context of the apartheid years. They show people on vacation, getting married, posing with their family, at work in their office, or just modeling their best clothes. The visual narrative begins with a photo of a receipt, dating back to 1999, likely taped to a folder or box. The first plate shows a dressed couple posing for a photo with a red background behind them, standing next to a table with flowers that the woman is gently touching. The photograph across the spread shows the same man, now in a trench coat and hat, posing with another man, again against the same red background. Decorative white lace photo corners appear on both images.

Being photographed often triggers a moment of joy and pride. A portrait of a woman posing under a flowering tree is paired with a photo of a boy standing next to a woman (likely his grandmother who raised him) as they both stare straight into the camera. A few pages later, a full picture shows a group of people sitting around the table, all dressed up and smiling. The colorful frames around some photographs add another cheerful layer to the parade.

The editing and pairing of the images highlights certain similarities between them. A photo of a young woman crouching in front of bushes as she looks away is paired with the image of a man standing next to palm trees. Another great pairing shows two photos of children, one with a girl with a can of Coca-Cola seen standing next to a car, and the other a smiling girl sitting in a Chevrolet. This collection of photographs shows people in their joy, with confidence and dignity, capturing private moments that could not be controlled by the state. It’s the world that is theirs, and these photographs show people’s resilience.

The very last photo in the book shows some of the boxes that contained the photographs that were not collected by their owners and are now shared with a wider audience in this photo book. The endpapers depict a street map of Jeppestown showing the location of the store; Lalla is still working there. Three photographs embedded at the bottom, each framed in a different color, show him as a little boy, a young man and more recently. Perhaps with the help of supporting information, some of the people in the photos can recognize their own photographs, or Lalla, and revisit her store, closing the circle that is now still open.

This project recalls the archival efforts of Beijing Silvermine, headed by French photography collector and curator Thomas Sauvin; it houses an extensive archive of vernacular photographs from China, many of which come from a collection of discarded negatives from a recycling plant. One of his photo book projects, Until death adorns ust (revised here), is a great example of using a playful book format to enhance the experience of engaging with vernacular photography. Fraglich Publishing is also distinguished by its innovative approaches to book formats, and in particular its commitment to telling stories that engage local communities at different levels. Not collected brought to illuminate a never-before-seen perspective on township life during apartheid, showing that no matter how dire the political situation, the intact spirit of ordinary people cannot be tamed.

Collector’s point of view: Lukas Birk and Audrey Salmon don’t seem to have consistent gallery representation at the moment. Therefore, interested collectors should probably contact the artists directly via their websites (links in sidebar).

Leave a Comment