Flipping through: ‘Last Picture’ by Jeff Ferrell


Jeff Ferrell’s new book “Last Picture” (Atopia Projects, 2022) spotlights his many years of rescuing discarded photographs from Fort Worth neighborhood dumpsters, presenting a selection of the found images and his discoveries surrounding the collection as a whole.

Ferrell has long been a scrounger, sharing that he has “spent a lifetime rooting around in other people’s trash.” Scavenging with “an eye toward research and writing” over the years, he has written several texts related to the act including “Empire of Scrounge” (2005) and an essay in Atopia’s “Lifting: Theft in Art” (2009).

Found photograph included in “Last Picture”; Courtesy of Atopia Projects
Ripped discarded photograph included in “Last Picture”; Courtesy of Atopia Projects

“Last Picture” is a result of the “American Dirt” exhibition presented at The Reading Room in Dallas in 2016. Organized by Atopia Projects founders Gavin Morrison and Fraser Stables, the exhibition highlighted selections from Ferrell’s photo collection.

Much like the exhibition, the book only offers a mere sampling – or snapshot – of his collection of several thousand found photographs. From professional portraits to candid moments, the selections cover a wide variety of subjects and periods. The photographs also range from traditional square prints to uncut film strips. Some have handwritten notes on the back.

Morrison and Stables penned the publication’s foreword, offering thoughts on Ferrell’s practice and collection along with the current state of photography. They claim that his “collection is principally the product of life changes and bereavements” while reflecting on “the loss and nostalgia embedded in the medium itself” due to the rise of digital technology.

In Ferrell’s essay, he shares his thoughts about discarded photos, framing them as “ghosts” that “haunt” him with what is known and unknown. He asserts that these photos are also “ghosts of a now-dying technological materiality, ghosts that still circulate among us but fleetingly and fewer in number with every cleaned-out bureau drawer and discarded photo album.”

Ferrell notes that these images “were born from a decisive moment” and probably lost during another one “characterized by failures of attentiveness or continuity.”

He ultimately poses the challenge that it is up to “the reader to decide what these photos are doing here, individually and collectively, and to consider whose photos these are and whose they were.”

‘Last Picture’
By Jeff Ferrell
Foreword by Gavin Morrison & Fraser Stables
Edition of 400
Atopia Projects, 2022

Caleb Bell
Caleb Bellhttp://www.cbellprojects.com/
Caleb Bell is a writer and the curator at the Tyler Museum of Art. Bell’s writing and curatorial practices work to expand the conversation around creativity and connect audiences with art.

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