Type 42 by Anonymous
Anyone who has lived in a major city around the world has probably at some point seen what is normally kept private – personal love letters, old financial statements, or decades worth of family photographs - spilling out of garbage bins onto the sidewalk. In New York it is very common to come across the contents of entire apartments thrown out into large dumpsters waiting to be hauled away to a landfill. Among the broken furniture and old mattresses one might be amazed at what can be found, and for ephemera collectors willing to search around in those dumpsters, there can be a virtual and literal ‘goldmine’ of material.In New York in the Spring of 2012, an artist named Jason Brinkerhoff bought approximately 950 ‘Type 42’ polaroid photographs that were shot of television screens by an unknown person. The images depict mainly actresses, women who starred in 1960s and 70s television shows and movies and all of the polaroids were labeled on the photograph’s margins with the name and sometimes film or TV title. An edit of these unusual and mysterious photographs make up a new book from Walther Koenig called Type 42: Fame is the Name of the Game.
The mystery surrounding the reason for their making is obviously a question that lingers over the entire archive. Cindy Sherman, who penned the introduction, questions whether the photos were taken by a woman or a man. She then proposes the possibility they were made by a woman asking what it is to be a woman, but how would one know? Photographs are mute. Were they an obsessive cataloging of female actors of the time? Were they art? Or research?
These images, which are mostly out of focus, dark and barely describe their subject, are the antithesis of glamorous. I spoke with Jason Brinkerhoff about this curious archive.
Jeff Ladd: Can you reveal the circumstances of how you found the archive? Was it found off the street or bought by you?
Jason Brinkerhoff: I bought the archive from a photo dealer in NY. I was visiting his loft/studio in the Spring of 2012 when he showed it to me. I immediately felt a strong attraction to the work - based on the subject of my own work - and the way the anonymous material generally feeds into my practice. He had purchased them from another guy who had purchased them from another guy. It was still completely in tact when I saw it. It also wasn't for sale. About 6 months later the photo dealer showed up at an opening I had in NY and asked me if I was still interested.
JL: Aside from its mysterious nature - an archive of photos made off TV screens by an unknown person and for unknown reasons – your work also deals directly with women. Did this discovery benefit your own work in some way?
JB: No, not directly. I have been collecting anonymous photography for over 10 years now. Much of it ends up being source material for the drawings and paintings I make. But this find specifically didn't feed into a body of work or anything like that. Soon after I got the photos in my hands I realized I had something special - that they were beautiful objects made by someone who we could easily classify as an outsider artist.
JL: The photographs had changed hands a few times before your discovery, how did you come to find out that the body of photographs had various previous owners?
JB: Just based on what the photo dealer told me. From what I can tell - at least 3 people before me had it in their possession.
JL: Had you done your own research in trying to track down who was responsible for the photographs?
JB: Yes. I scoured the internet for about a month. And reached out to a bunch of people I know in the found photography space - but came up with nothing. We were never able to trace the archive back to the source.
JL: I realize that guessing what the real context and reason for the archive was maybe a frivolous exercise but certainly upon discovery you may have formulated your own opinions. What did you think the photos were for? Was it art? Research? Just an odd obssession?
JB: Personally, I think it was created out of obsession. The collection is unique in that of the 977 polaroids - there must be at least 800 different actresses documented. I think this guy was building an index of all of he actresses in movies and on television. We've been able to figure out that it was around 1970 when he did this. No VCR. It's amazing when you think about how much television he was watching to get these shots. Almost 45 years later, we can look at it as art. It's really easy to see the connection to Andy Warhol or early Cindy Sherman - that whole era as Pop was transitioning.