A view of the past inspires a hobby for the future

I don’t know if I sometimes just have bad taste in reading material, but it’s not very often that I find a book (fiction or otherwise) that instantly gets under my skin and changes something in me.  High on the kind of energy only Christmas Day can offer, I went online shortly after Christmas brunch and ordered Talking Pictures by Ransom Riggs for myself after realizing that I had forgotten to tell anyone I wanted it.  If you’re wondering where you’ve heard that name before, Ransom Riggs is the author of the super creepy, yet totally engrossing, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (coincidentally, my first read of 2012).  To be fair, the creep factor of that book really came from the frankly bizarre found pictures peppered throughout.

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Cover photo for Talking Pictures

In Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past, Riggs offers an extensive collection of found pictures, this time specifically chosen from flea market bins because of the unusual messages left on them.  According to his Introduction, Riggs’ unusual hobby of collecting pictures of strangers began in his youth when he was dragged out by his bargain-hunting grandmother to various sales and markets.  Riggs explains that what strikes him about these old photos is their timeless nature (page xiii).  That whether the pictures are about loss or love, from the 1800s or the 1950s, they tell us that things aren’t so different (page xiv).

I have to say, this book is not what I was expecting.  I mean that in the best possible way.  His other book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (which I loved), seemed like a very interesting and different narrative constructed around very interesting and different pictures.  So I was kind of expecting another work of fiction; I imagined that this book would be a collection of strange photos to which Riggs himself would lend a voice.  I was pleasantly surprised to find instead that I couldn’t hear Riggs’ voice at all in these 357 pages of photos.  All I heard were the dry and crackling voices of 1950s newly weds, grieving family remembering men who never came home from WWII and Victorian women worrying that they looked fat in their photos.

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Still from Ransom Riggs’ video for Talking Pictures.

Riggs is right, his is an unusual hobby.  But why should that be? These old photos, curious discards from family collections, are a thread that directly connects our present to the past.  But with cell phone cameras and xD cards, we are becoming increasingly removed from these physical reminders that the world is basically the same place it always was.  I am incredibly moved to drive over to my grandpa’s retirement residence and raid his old photo albums, and to visit my local flea market and rustle up some talking photos of my own.

I am very excited to see what else Ransom Riggs will offer his readers in the future (like maybe a Miss Peregrine’s sequel!?).  If you agree, you can follow his blog and stay up to date on his news.  In addition, if you would like to hear Riggs explaining his hobby and the purpose of his book, click here!

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