What are the psychological reasons behind the compulsion to collect? Photographer Callum O’Keefe explores
Discussing football fans, Star Wars and baked beans, we talk to the Bristol-based photographer about the personal significance of his series Antiques of the Future.
- Elfie Thomas
- 12 April 2022
Callum O’Keefe’s father was a collector of “all sorts”, the photographer tells It’s Nice That. “From Tretikoff Paintings to Marmite and Coca Cola, he would spend hours in his shed every evening, buying and selling and curating his collection.” Growing up in South Wales, surrounded by these intriguing objects, his father’s collecting habit seemed normal to Callum. It was only after his father’s passing in 2017 that he began to think more deeply about the role these objects played in helping his father through his life.
With many unanswered questions buzzing around his head, he embarked on his final major project at university, entering into the private world of collectors to find out more about the psychological reasons behind their “compulsion to collect”. In contrast to previous projects, Antiques of the Future entailed a lot of research. Not just into finding collectors to interview and photograph, but also taking a deep dive into his family history and his father’s upbringing. On this journey of discovery, Callum found that people often turn to collecting as a response to childhood trauma. “They create their material world around them, using it to create their mark on the world,” he tells us. “Their collection is often used as an escape from the stress of everyday life and creates a sense of nostalgia where people tend to find comfort.”
One of the images which really stands out for the photographer is his portrait of Captain Beany. Beany by name, beany by nature, the Captain runs a Baked Bean Museum from his flat in Port Talbot. Callum’s portrait captures him in the museum, with walls painted in that unmistakable tomato-saucy orange tone, smiling through orange-tinted glasses at the photographer’s lens. An image that he initially overlooked, it was only until a friend pointed it out at the editing stage that he came to look at it again, and “fell in love with it”. Being the first subject that he spoke to and photographed, Captain Beany's portrait went on to influence the way Callum documented the rest of the project.
Another intriguing character he met was John, “one of the most infamous Portsmouth Football Club fans in the UK”. Callum photographed him in full FC regalia, covered head to foot in 60 tattoos dedicated to the Portsmouth football club. This fan is often presented in rather a negative light by the media, Callum explains. So when John invited Callum to his family owned antiquarian book shop in Petersfield, the photographer was keen to show another side of his character. Football fan paraphernalia and antique books are a rather unexpected combination to say the least. So, capturing John walking through his family shop with a denim waistcoat bedecked in Portsmouth FC patches, the photographer offers a more nuanced perspective of the collector.
Then there’s Keith. Keith currently has the largest collection of Star Wars 3/4 figurines. As a child, Callum watched Star Wars on VHS and collected the figurines. He says, “When I came across Keith’s Star Wars collection online I knew it had to be one that I photographed.” Keith’s collection lives and grows side by side with him in his home. Through Callum’s photographs we see him smiling humbly, seated comfortably with his shoes off on a leather sofa, accompanied by some of his figurines, arranged lovingly in a glass case. In fact, Callum adds, Keith “had to buy a bigger house to store his collection where he has now dedicated a room to it”.
Originally getting into photography through taking pictures of music events, the quiet and contemplative portraits in Antiques of the Future, couldn’t seem further from the loud gigs which initially sparked Callum’s interest in the medium. But with his personal connection to the project, his commitment to hearing each collector’s story and the reasons why they collect, the series has evolved into a carefully curated collection of its own. Planning to exhibit the series as an immersive installation in the future, Callum hopes it will encourage his audience to look at the world of collecting from a place of understanding and subjectivity, “to understand the viewpoint of a collector and gain an appreciation for it.”
Callum O’Keefe: Antiques of the Future (Copyright © Callum O’Keefe, 2020)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.