I’ve noticed that a growing number of photographers are trawling junk shops, auction houses and flea markets in search of the discarded negatives of undiscovered and potentially great photographers. This has probably been going on for decades, and I personally have been buying old photographs that said seemed to be worth salvaging for years. However stories like that of Chicago street photographer Vivian Maier, who’s archive of thousands of exposed films was bought in an auction after her death by a curious amateur and turned out to be one of the photographic finds of recent years are raising the profile of this strange practice of photographic archaeology.
My absolute favourite photographer was one of these undiscovered virtuosos, virtually unknown in his own lifetime, in part by choice. Born Mike Meyer in 1884 into an Arkansas farming family, he at some point changed his second name to demonstrate his dislike of his agrarian upbringing. Now named Mike Disfarmer, he became interested in photography and set up a studio on his mother’s porch, later opening one in the local town of Heber Springs where he lived more or less as a recluse, while making his living taking portraits of local people.