The Photo Man: A Dealer of (3 Million) Lost Memories

The Photo Man: A Dealer of (3 Million) Lost Memories

Gregory Han
Jul 16, 2013

Los Angeles vintage and flea market shoppers probably recognize Mark Kologi by face, if not by name.  His troughs of forgotten photographic memories have become a popular perusal destination for creatives at the weekly Melrose Trading Post. The video by Ben Kitnick below spotlights how he's long collected and sold over 3 million photos of complete strangers, in the process reminding me how powerfully important family photos are, yet how easily they're forgotten and lost.

Family photos have been on my mind recently. My family and I recently observed my father's annual memorial, a time when I often dig up the old family photo albums to refresh the perpetually frustrating fading memories of a man I said goodbye to back in 2000. They're all I have left of him besides the lessons he imparted and a few of his possessions; the photos are a tactile and visual way to see him as he once was: young, strong, fatherly...alive. Even with those we most love and have lost, our memories tend to fade like footprints out of a pool on a hot summer day, and I find myself having to return to those 3 or 4 leather bound photo albums to "dip the foot back into the pool" of yesterday. I'm always happy those pages of drugstore developed photo prints are there waiting if I need them (I've also scanned and digitized most of them).

Shortly ago I toured artist Gary Baseman's ongoing exhibition at the Skirball Center, an ode to his childhood family life and memories, The Door Is Always Open. Baseman recreated his whole childhood home in imaginative, if not wholly intentionally fantastic and inaccurate fashion, peppering his recreated family home with photographs of his parents and family, the tributaries of memory flowing from room to room. There was something immediately emotionally connecting, seeing these faces on the walls from someone's family's past...even upon the walls of a faux home of someone I only knew in name. 

Yet as important as family photos are, millions are simply discarded, forgotten and lost. Sometimes by accident, other times by unforeseen circumstance, decades of photos from countless families find themselves at flea markets, vintage resellers, and online, and sadly sometimes thrown into the garbage. Mark Kologi has been, finding, collecting and reselling these lost memories for years now at the Sunday Melrose Trading Post, and has long been a popular spot for designers and decorators looking for authentic era-specific imagery to tap into the confluence of memories and images. 

The video above made me wonder if one day all those precious photos from my own family will end up in the hands of family or even a stranger decades from now, who will wonder, "what were they like?" 

I hope so.

(Image: Ben Kitnick; Gregory Han)

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