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.

Closer look at hairy balls seed pods on felted matboard with window light bounced on opposite side. Loved the heart in the dried leaves.

Still life with hairy balls and brown medicine bottle and burst seed pods below with light bounced to soften shadows. Interpreted in the style of Cezanne.

The second item, spindles (or bobbins), comes from a denim mill in Georgia. The mill is long gone, along with the jobs it provided for the community and area, but the remains of Lindale Mill property are now owned by a family working to preserve a part of its history and create a venue for events. Built in 1896 by Massachusetts Mills, the mill produced 1/7 of all textiles in Georgia and employed 1,393 people. In 1931, during the Great Depression, a few mill employees built a wooden star of HOPE to hang between the two smoke stacks at Christmas.

Spindles by window light with Lensbaby Velvet 56. Take note of two things:

AMERICAN Paper Tube Co. and MADE IN U.S.A. These tell another story.

After 105 years of manufacturing, the mill closed in September 2001 when it couldn’t compete with textiles made overseas. In 2004, the 70-year tradition of the Christmas Star was briefly ended. In 2010 the Silva family purchased the mill and began cleaning up the area around the mill. In 2013, the Christmas Star hanging tradition was restored.

Joe Silva was gracious enough to allow me to keep some spindles/bobbins from the mill. I wanted to honor this gift and piece of American history with images that reflect a part of their history. It felt right to use denim, cotton and an antique case for the arrangements. And, yes, I am keeping these forever.

Spindles and denim jeans by window light.

From the roots to end product – cotton, spindles and denim jeans by window light.

Looking through the spindles to the denim jeans beyond with Lensbaby Velvet 56.

Another twist on the spindles and jeans by window light. There is more to discover.

Spindles and jeans in an antique case by window light is where this exploration began.

Third, and finally, I present one of my grandmother’s cameras. Of everyone in our family that I can remember, she was the one who always had the camera. I can’t tell you how many times I stood on my grandparents’ front porch or ours or anywhere we w