Lauren Purves, Multidisciplinary artist/Photographer, Marketing and Communications Consultant
Currently living in Los Angeles, Salt Spring Island (where I moved my items to and where house fire happened), previously Toronto (before house fire and where the objects lived).
What do you collect?
I collect(ed) cameras. Most of the time I used the cameras -- whether old or fairly new. I wanted to see what their effect and process was like before I shelved them in the collection at least. Often I would be drawn to one camera more than the other. I gravitated always towards Minolta cameras as that was the first 35 mm camera I got for my birthday when I was 14. I still love Minolta and am comforted whenever choosing that camera brand over others. I “got” you, it whispers.
I also collect textiles. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. My grandfather was a tailor, my grandmother was a brilliant artist seamstress. I never saw her wear the same thing twice. Ever. It’s funny how it skips a generation, but I completely love collecting textiles. The textiles I gravitate towards are one’s that look like they have a story to tell. What does that mean? Yes, quilts have become trendy, but I am going to use that as an example because the craftsmanship that goes into a quilt and the love, as well as the weight and nostalgia that quilts sentimize is reality is the exact feeling I look for when sourcing textiles. When I see the right material, I buy it knowing that I will find a way to use it. It might sound like a hoarder mentality, and maybe it is, but the feeling of having it as a “story” is similar to the same way we hoard books. It’s like having company in your home, in your space. They’re friends.
How did your collection start? What is the first thing you acquired?
Mentioned above, it was my 14th birthday when I first acquired my 35mm camera as a birthday gift from my parents. I had gone to art school my whole life and when I started to use the darkroom, it was a love affair ever since. I love salvaging and looking for treasures in yard sales, or antique flea markets. It’s always great to have a goal or a motive going into those, it’s like a game of ispy. Finding the right camera and anything that adds to your collection is like hitting the jackpot.
Same thing with textiles. I love touching and feeling a piece to know what it’s like. Some people buy shoes with their paycheck. I buy vintage napkins and the perfect linen face cloths.
Did you start it yourself or did someone start it for you?
I started myself!
Was there a moment you realized it was actually a collection? Was this a conscious decision?
Didn’t realize until I saw them accumulate and realize that i’m consistently drawn to this one item.
How do you collect?
By flea markets, yard sales, antique stores, small town vintage shops, auctions or
Why do you collect?
I think it’s important. If you have one object, it’s on its own. When you have many of one object, it changes its meaning and sentimental value. There’s something about comparing stories behind each object and the entirety they combine to be!
In your opinion, how many objects do you think it takes to make a collection?
At least 5?
Where do you house/store your objects?
They are no longer with us.
What is your relationship to your collection?
They are family. Heirlooms of the past that were either passed down to me, I got in various countries I travelled, or salvaged from small towns like a needle in the haystack finds. I have a new relationship to stuff since I lost my camera collection though. I saw a few of them in the bushes that surrounded the house fire, thrown by the fire fighters from the room where my belongings were hoping they were salvageable. Some of them were half eaten by fire, others melted like a Dali painting. I took photos of them and it just changed me as a collector. Why do I collect these cameras? What is it about these objects that have kept me wanting to search for more and house them? I still haven't bought a camera since the fire. It’s been two years. I’ll avoid camera booths. It’s like an acquaintance now. It’s kinda like I gave up. And I have the one camera that I had on me while travelling when the house fire occurred -- my very first minolta i received for my 14th birthday. So that’s all that seems to matter. For now.
Some of the textiles were from my grandmother. They still smell like her and her house, which unfortunately was the smell of garlic. She cooked a lot with garlic. But i love it. I only have one of her fabrics as most of them were lost in the fire. I had her button collection which was an entire other collection I forgot to mention. This was the start of my collecting. In highschool I would make “Bubbie’s button rings”. Rings repurposed simply into easy-made rings. I sold them in the hallways at school and to friends and family. I guess you can say that was my first “business”.
I just started building back my button collection. Nothing will compare to the odds and ends i’d find in that button collection of hers. I don't know how long she had been accumulating that collection, but she would keep even a rubber band from the broccoli so I imagine she had this collection ongoing for a while.
Do they serve a purpose? Are they functional or purely decorative?
The cameras serve a purpose. I would never buy a camera that didn’t work. If the owner wasn’t sure and if it was cheap enough, i’d risk buying it for the gamble of experimenting using it and eating the cost of the film. I once bought a plastic Nikon nothing camera on Roncesvalles, an antique nothing store more on the Queen Street East stretch, and brought it to Burningman. It was perfect for desert dust storms. The camera was incredible. I got it for $5. The store owner knew nothing about it.
The textiles are another story. I tell myself “I can use that to potentially make (blank). I think that’s the inner dialogue of a hoarder. But at the same time, I think artists need to have that collection of items to choose from on hand, somewhat like a pallet of paint. Like fashion, those textiles sometimes come in handy and I “try them on” for projects. Other times, they sit in my bin of beautiful textiles. Knowing they are there somewhat comforts me though.
Do you think about your collection beyond acquisition?
Yes. It’s often sentimental. For the cameras, it’s almost like science experiments I want to play with and have the freedom to see how the outcome will be once I give it a whirl with a load of film.
With textiles it’s definitely a relationship to history and it’s sentiments. I love the quality and feeling a piece of fabric can exude. There’s a nostalgic story telling and understanding of garments that often goes unnoticed. It’s beautiful to collect a piece of quality fabric. It’s like a nice strain of wine. It’s just devine!
How has your relationship to your collection changed or shifted since Covid?
Oh boy. I’ve gravitated more and more to textiles, particularly comforting materials and pieces like quilts and thick blankets.
I don't think my camera collecting would’ve changed if it weren't for Covid. It remains static at the moment since the fire.
In general, how attached are you to these objects? If you lost everything, would you start your collection over again?
I lost everything and I haven’t started my camera collection over. I think it was about finding them in certain times and places. It was a time in my life that was a strain of my history and almost habitual belonging that hasn;t been able to continue since abruptly losing it all. My relationship to the object has since changed, and maybe it was starting to before I lost them. I know my textile collecting has continued. Maybe because I know the possibilities with textiles are endless. Imagining what I could turn that into perhaps keeps me going? I also just like the feeling of them being in my company. It’s a warm feeling without being blanketed by them, they are there. The cameras were more strangers who I hoped I would get along with. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to connect again. Maybe I will one day.
Anything more you would like to share?
As I write this I forgot to mention another collection I’ve had. Life Magazines. I loved them, they were also all lost in the fire and that really hurt. My oldest one dating from the 1920’s! I had been collecting those for maybe 10 years. Not as long as my camera enthusiasm, but it was a reminder of my time living in the Annex. The smell of the Life magazine newsprint was insanely gratifying. I love the publishing world and have worked in that industry for many years. Even when I can’t afford it, I allot a certain amount of money to indulge in magazines. Life magazines naturally became a love of history, publishing, and love for sentimentality. I framed all my life magazines when we moved to Cabbagetown. When they were up on the wall they were like a museum of history. Some headlines still relevant today, some so bizarre from a different life. I haven’t been able to bring myself to collect another magazine since the fire. I think for this collection, it’s more like, “I’m tired”. I had such a great array of Life magazine issues, amazing in their own right, I have given up thinking I can accumulate anything better than I had, at which point I kinda give-up knowing that. Which isn’t the best attitude to have, but I think i’m just done. Nevertheless, if i do happen across a Life magazine that really stops me in my tracks, I MIGHT grab it, and I can see that snowballing back into collecting. It might just take one. I just haven’t come across one that has hit me that hard yet.