I am not a hoarder, I am a collector: If you have something you like, every time you see it,

you have a little happy hit.

–Douglas Coupland

As a photographer, I see a lot of potentially interesting subjects. I pick some up from the ground, some off the sandy beaches, from the woods, and even some off the side of the road. I love old things. So, going into an antiques store can be dangerous, especially if they give you a little basket to collect the goods. That’s where you can find all kinds of cool stuff. Mostly, I find items that remind me of my childhood, things that are long gone from my family and others that are just look-backs in time. I am a Collector.

Found these in an antiques store and photographed them with a Lensbaby. Resisted taking them home.

Treasures from another woman’s collection of her life story on the water in Beaufort, NC.


Let’s be honest from the start. Do you collect things? Doesn’t matter what it is. It’s a yes or no question. My answer is “yes.” If your answer is the same, join me as a fellow collector, hunter/gatherer, saver of memories and any other good words you can come up with. Do the things you collect have value? Monetary or emotional or both? Do they fall into categories like family history, nostalgia, floral, coastal, and just neat stuff? Mine do.

Do you have your collections all labeled and organized in specific and methodical ways? Not really. Are they on display in a meaningful way? Some are. Or are they gathered together in bins and cabinets and sometimes jumbles, or combination of all three ways? That’s a yes for me. Well, really, it’s a “yes, but….”

I collect a lot of different things – rocks, acorns, books, signs, jars, bottles, bird cages, flowers, bugs, marbles, buttons, old toys, cases. You name it, and I probably have a little bit of a collection. There’s a part of me that just can’t help it. I’m a tactile/visual kind of person. I like to touch and feel and look and touch.

The question is, “why?” Well, many things remind me of my childhood, like tins of buttons, jars of marbles, shells and milk bottles. We had a milkman growing up, and I remember my mother would leave notes in the empty bottles for him. Other things remind me of times gone by, when we actually made items by hand, and they were made to last. I’m reminded of times I didn’t live in and probably can only romanticize them in unrealistic ways – like the old cars, bird cages, clocks and old lamps. Then, there are the “smalls,” like old medicine bottles, salt and pepper shakers, tin boxes, colored glass jars and bottles. You name it.

The last look at one of my barns from Cameron, NC.

A mountain barn with a bit more life left in it.

For the record, I may be a “florahoarder.” I have dried flowers of all kinds – seed pods, flower tops, roses and buds, hydrangeas, dahlias and a few more. In other words, I have a lot of dead things in floral storage.  Eventually, they will have their turn in front of the camera and be released. For now, many are stored in small bins and containers while ideas germinate on how I might photograph them in a different way. They have no explicit timeline. Just waiting. Their time will come, and then they will go. Until then, they and I wait.

I can’t explain all there is to my fascination with old things, small items of little value, except perhaps that they once had value and were used and useful, then they became useless. Like the old homes I see along the back roads that are left to fall away onto themselves. Homes that were once filled with families and stories somehow become “leave-able” and abandoned. Because I can’t bring home old houses or barns or cars and tractors, I go out and photograph them before they are gone forever. I hunt and gather images to keep them from fading into a completely different and often unmemorable new landscape.


So, I thought I’d pick three of the many things I’ve collected and explain some of the reasons behind the collecting and keeping of each. Why these three? Because one is part nature’s story, and it’s new to me. One is part of our country’s history, and the other is part of my personal story. The question then became “how do I photograph and represent them?”

First, there are the “hairy balls” (also and formally known as gomphocarpus physocarpus), a different kind of milkweed and another host plant for monarchs. Their flowers are white with maroon centers, and the seed pods are large, lime green translucent balloons. I just learned about them this past October at Pharsalia in Virginia. I can and will let these little ones go. I’ll share the seeds and try to grow some for myself. If that plan doesn’t work, I know where to find more. The lead image is what the seed pod looks like after it burst open perfectly and before the seed heads begin their air dance to other places. It’s a very interesting plant to photograph. Not only that, it has a funny name that gets your attention.

Hairy balls burst open and ready for the winds to take the seeds away.

Hairy balls interpreted in artistic fashion as Van Gogh might have painted.

About as perfect a split of the hairy ball seed pod to display the tightly packed seeds and still green center before the seeds would waft into the air.

Making use of tiny vase, window light and mat board for foundation of image and Swirly Strokes II in Topaz Impression.