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On a shelf above my desk sits an enormous binder full of 35mm slides, neatly stored in sleeves. These slides aren’t my work though. And it isn’t the work of anyone I know.
I came into possession of the binder some time last year. A co-worker of mine had decided to venture out on his own to follow a dream that involved photography, South America, and Eco-tourism. Arriving at work the day after his departure I noticed the binder, which I had always assumed to be his work, still sitting on his desk. Worried that his slides would be lost forever, tossed away and destroyed, I snatched up the binder for safe keeping.
I have a hard enough time throwing my own work out, even when it belongs in the trash, so I couldn’t watch what was obviously someone’s massive cache of images be tossed. I promptly emailed my former co-worker and told him I’d saved the binder and would deliver it to him safely. I was feeling proud of my good deed, yet wondering why on earth he would have forgotten something so important.
Later in the day another co-worker came up to me and said, “I see you’ve inherited the binder”. Curious as to the somewhat whimsical nature of said co-worker’s comment I raised an eyebrow and replied with something like, “Well, I’m holding onto to it for so and so….” With a giggle my comrade went on to explain that the binder wasn’t our departed co-worker’s slides at all – but that he had found it on the street, and “saved” it from certain doom. Needless to say I felt somewhat deflated in my mission.
Later when the departed co-worker emailed back he explained that he had tracked down the owner of the slide binder when he had found it (which wasn’t too hard since his name was stamped on the back of each slide – a fact I would have discovered had I actually opened the binder) who informed my former co-worker that he didn’t want the slides back – and to, THROW THE BINDER OUT!
The departed co-worker and I both mused over this instruction to throw all that work out. Even if this photographer didn’t want his slides back, there was just something in us that couldn’t toss the hundreds and hundreds of images. That being said, the departed co-worker knew that leaving the slides on his desk would probably equal doom for the work, but at least gone he wouldn't have to see it happen.
I should take a moment for a disclaimer here. Since leaving college some years ago I made a promise to myself to no longer be a pack rat. Interesting boxes from things I'd buy, papers, books, and discarded photos I’d find on the street all made their way into my life during those years – and many other things as well. "Dumpster Diving" was considered a fun past time by me and several of my friends and roommates. In fact, we pretty much furnished our apartment that way. The thing was - we could never throw anything out, or return anything to the garbage that we weren't going to use, for other dumpster divers to seize upon. My issue with.... collecting shall we say?, didn't start in college though, which anyone who saw my childhood bedroom can attest to. As much as I value repurposing things there is a point where you need to be selective.
So, here I was: to keep the unwanted binder or dump it? Since no one wanted it, even its creator, I knew it didn’t matter if I threw it out. And in all truth it’d probably be healthier for me if I did, with my no-clutter pact and all. Yet, more than a year later it still sits on my shelf. I haven’t even looked at the slides much past the first couple of pages which consist of early ‘90s models, some interiors, and product shots… not the most exciting stuff.
So what’s my problem? Why I can’t I toss this guy’s slides? It’s not that I’ve fallen in love with these images and must have them in my life. The binder’s too big for a paper weight, and truthfully, it takes up a lot of room on my shelf. So, what’s my deal? I guess I just can’t bear to destroy somebody else’s work. And, old habits die hard. But if anyone else out there finds themselves having a similar issue, or can shed some light on this quirk of mine, I'd like to hear some theories.