Angry notes from detergent-less housemates, sinister to-do lists, photos from the 70s of some kid with gigantic bouffante hair. This is the kind of random ephemera that goes to make up Found Magazine, a trash/treasure trove of the things us everyday folks leave behind. Mark Edmundson meets the men behind it as they bring their swag and a live show to Scotland
We’re a curious bunch us humans. We seem compelled to concern ourselves with the business of others, be it people-watching in bars or gazing into strangers’ front rooms. Now, there is a quiet phenomenon coming to our shores from America, offering a safely removed opportunity to wonder about the lives of others, a phenomenon they call Found.
‘The house we grew up in was next to a schoolyard,’ says Peter Rothbart. ‘Kids are notorious for losing a lot of stuff and we would always find scraps of paper and other oddities as we were wandering across the schoolyard to catch our bus in the morning. My brother was especially keen on those things and would collect them.’
Peter’s brother Davy is the founder and figurehead of Found Magazine, a hotchpotch collection of lost and subsequently found ephemera: love letters, children’s homework, receipts, shopping lists, doodles, photographs, ‘anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life’. One frigid Chicago night Davy found a note on his car in a case of mistaken Toyota Camry, the freakish chance and tragic duality of which he found so perfect he felt compelled to share.
‘He just thought that note was so fantastic he wanted to share it with other people and soon he realised a lot of his friends had found things and maybe hung them up on their refrigerator or put them up on their wall. He thought it was a shame that only the few people that happened to traipse through their kitchen got to see it, so he thought, “Well, why not make a magazine where everyone can share this cool stuff they found?”’
Eight years later and Found has blossomed into an international community arts programme through its vaguely annual magazine, rowdy live events and spin-off collections such as Dirty Found. ‘The first issue had a majority of stuff that my brother, myself or someone we knew had found,’ says Peter. ‘But word had spread quickly enough that by the second issue only a handful of things had been found by us and, by the third issue, 95 per cent was sent in by people we had never met before. It’s really impressive how many people are connecting with the project and how quickly it’s taken off.’
Now the team receive some 2000 submissions daily. Their thoughtfully executed website posts a Find of the Day along with comments boards and a whole host of related media such as the answer-machine and home-taping amnesty, Found Sounds.
It is difficult to describe the cocktail of emotions that any one of these frequently touching, often inexplicable, curios can conjure. As windows into the fleeting, highly personal minutiae of others’ lives they can be mysterious, poignant, cute, funny, heartbreaking, any combination of these and more. Any single find serves up an unsettling blend of amusement, intrigue and pathos.
‘Found offers people a way to connect with others that’s really genuine,’ says Peter. ‘It gives you an insight into other people’s lives, their thoughts, their feelings, their experience of being human. It’s something a lot of people need in their lives, but also it’s just entertaining. We’re all very peculiar creatures and we lead peculiar lives and the details of those lives are wildly entertaining. People are funny and heartbreaking and just bizarre.’
Voyeurism has a bad rep – that long association with obsession, those tasteless reality television shows – so is this mass exercise in collecting and sharing voyeuristic? In an interview with David Letterman, Davy referred to the exchange as ‘people-watching on paper’, and indeed a large part of the appeal is the remoteness of the artefacts from their context. Perhaps it is simple human curiosity, the wonder that there are so very many of us, just in our own neighbourhoods, and we can touch so few and know so little about those around us. ‘There’s nothing wrong with wanting to understand how other people live and what their experience of being alive is,’ says Peter. ‘It’s natural to be curious about that and I don’t think we’re voyeuristic in any prurient or unhealthy way.’
The Rothbart brothers can take credit not only for launching and maintaining what is now a bone fide international phenomenon, but also for the way in which they present the material. You might think anyone could put these wayward trinkets together and publish them to much the same effect, but everything the Found team have done harbours good intent, love even. It is this innocent, good-natured enthusiasm that shines through in every lost item found and shared.
The Found team hosts two events at Forest Cafe, Edinburgh, Mon 13 Oct; Sub Club, Glasgow, Tue 14 Oct.