FOUND Polaroids by Jason Bitner (Editor)

Born in July 2001 as a small zine held together with scotch tape and copied on the sly at Kinko’s, Jason Bitner’s Found has spawned an empire. Go to the Found website and not only can you order books, buttons, bumper stickers, tapes, and greeting cards, but you can also check out upcoming tours, art shows, concerts, readings, and other live events involving members of the Found crew and their friends. As empires go, moroever, Found strives for democracy. Along with his basketball buddy Davy Rothbart, Bitner has formed Found “street teams” to browse the alleys and garbage cans of most major US cities; anyone can contribute their finds, and everyone’s welcome at Found events; in a way, it’s like the thrift-store version of McSweeney’s, without the literary pretensions.

For those who’ve yet to discover it, Found magazine is a regular(ish) showcase for the detritus of the human heart: love notes, to-do lists, poetry, homework, letters, ticket-stubs, doodles, post-it notes, and other lost or abandoned writings picked up on the streets, or saved from the trash. The next issue will be #5; and its naughty little sister, Dirty Found, is up to #3.

Found Polaroids is perhaps the least interesting of Found publications (and I own them all), but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own sleazy, poignant charm. There’s something nostalgically fascinating and ghostly about polaroids, those blurred instant memories with their big white frames that, in the age of the digital camera, seem to come from a distant age. There are some real gems here, too, haunting and bizarre: a picture found in Honolulu of a gawky man with electric chili-pepper string lights shoved in his nose and ears; one found in Chicago of a young thug surrounded by men dressed up as sheiks; one from Long Beach of a middle-aged man squeezing a chubby, tattooed girl from behind.

As with most Found publications, the only commentary included is that added by the item’s finder, which means that, in most cases, there’s nothing more than a name and place, although some finders enclose comments of their own, ranging from a couple of sentences to a whole page of speculations. The editors have decided to let the pictures to speak for themselves — and most of them do. Still, I think this short book would really benefit from an introductory essay explaining something about the process of selection, about what kinds of pictures made the cut, and why. Clearly, a found Polaroid of a dorky-looking kid has a different kind of interest than a Polaroid of a car interior. Pictures involving people always have a kind of voyeuristic appeal; you might speculate about the circumstances behind the scene, but you seldom wonder why they were taken. When there are no people in the pictures, however — when the pictures might even have been taken by accident, like pictures of a parked car or a back alley — the process for inclusion has to involve matters not so much of content but of style, framing, texture, and composition.

Found keeps everything very simple, engaging and down-to-earth, but I don’t think it would be disruptive or alienating to add more commentary. This book obviously has connections with other cultural traditions, including art brut and the objêt trouvèe, not to mention contemporary confessional websites like PostSecret. It may be that Bitner is wary of seeming too pretentious, or putting off Found fans who might start to fear their empire has been co-opted by (yikes!) “Art”, but there’s so much in this book to engage the imagination and to spark the curiosity that I think some kind of critical engagement is necessary. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being dismissed as slight and flimsy — when, in fact, it’s anything but.