O is for...
An ordinary object, found. A strand of sequins, a hand-stitched flower, threads & buttons. Things discovered with pleasure, in a long-abandoned attic or at the bottom of a beaded opera purse; faded & frayed, pre-loved & glorious. Origin: France, found object.
I think the word 'souvenir' gets a really bad rap. I want to conjure up all the romance of travel and the idea of coming into the port of a place that was so foreign, the desire to take a piece as a memento was too strong to deny. Souvenirs were often made by local artisans for visiting tourists (also a word that gets a hard time). Things like shell cameos from the Amalfi Coast, Native American beaded purses from Niagara Falls, pin cushions out of conch shells from the Bahamas. A little kitsch, maybe, but the set of bamboo-handled knives & forks with 'Surfers Paradise' hand-painted on each handle that my great friends Donna & WIll gave me many years ago have long been treasured many times used.
During my years of styling , I developed some strange habits (or were they always there?). I styled food shoots for many years, so was on the constant lookout for unusual table props. Travelling constantly, I began picking up wrapped sugar cubes and matchbooks from various nooks & crannies. As well as the souvenirs, I grew very interested in paper food wrappings, particularly vintage ones like tapas paper napkins, cupcake patty pans, foil chocolate wrappers, berry punnets and amaretto papers to incorporate into my photographs.
Old cardboard boxes hold the romance of days gone by. Not only because of the shop's stamp & labelling that might be on them but also for the box's specific shape & size, the quality & texture of the cardboard structure, the attention to the edge details and even the hardware that holds the corner. I upcycle old boxes when they come my way to house my own collections of ribbons, bulldog clips etc. Not only are boxes practical, but they look beautiful, too.
Bell'occhio, a favourite shop in San Francisco sells, among other things, handcrafted French papier-mâché boxes of fruits, nuts, shells and the like. I have one in the shape of an oyster. I love the romance of oysters, and have been known to ask the very obliging waitstaff at Balthazar to wash my dozen mini Kumamoto shells after a particularly pleasant lunch as a memento. The shape for me is iconic, irregular and one of nature's naturally crafted vessels. The colour varies so much from shore to shore, and inspired, both in colour & patina, one of my paints, aptly named 'Oyster Grey'.