Even as a teenager Sébastien Lifshitz loved flea markets. It helped that he lived in Paris where marchés aux puces are commonplace. They became his “little kingdoms” where he went on treasure hunts looking for objects that he could make his own. More often than not he found himself leaving with old photographs.
“I was obsessed with the past and traces of it,” he says, having continued to indulge this obsession well into adulthood. His work as a filmmaker has meant he’s had to travel a lot, and along the way he kept collecting photographs at flea markets, garage sales, photo galleries, sometimes on eBay.
It was only in retrospect, after nearly three decades of habitual collecting, that Lifshitz recognised his own skill as curator. “I realised that all these pictures I was buying were obviously a kind of collection. But it took me years to investigate in my compulsive habit and to see the motifs I was obsessed with.”
As a pattern emerged Lifshitz organised some of his collection into a series of four books – a different poetic theme running through each volume. The books, published as a set by Stedil, are titled Superfreak, Under the Sand, Someone Was Here & Flou (which means ‘blur’ in French). The title of each volume hints at the theme – Under the Sand for instance alludes to the beach – but that’s where Liftshitz’ use of words ends.
The books are entirely devoid of text, which the collector hopes will give the images the power to speak for themselves. “I didn’t want to explain anything with [the photographs in] these four books,” Lifshitz says. “I wanted to keep their enigmatic sense and to bring them to each viewer like I found them.”
Liftshitz’s fondness for flea markets and found photographs is reminiscent of Erik Kessels‘. The latter’s approach, however, sees the construction of clearer stories; he builds narratives with photographs and his role as collector and interpreter is quite pronounced.
Lifshitz’s assemblages leave the viewer to imagine where the images come from, who took them and what they mean; he masterfully invites interpretation.