It was a photo of six tan friends — lounging around a table littered with bottles and cups on a shady deck, apparently enjoying vodka and lemonade — that spurred Matt Prepost to action in January. The photo, first uploaded to postsecret.com, the Web site where users confess their secrets in homemade-postcard format, featured an orange-marker message: “I found your camera at Lollapalooza this summer. I finally got the pictures developed. I’d love to give them to you.”
Prepost, a 20-year-old University of Winnipeg student, took the scribbled sentiments seriously and enlisted the help of Frank Warren, the man behind PostSecret, to launch ifoundyourcamera.net, a site devoted to uniting found photographs with their owners. Warren dug the idea, and the site was up by the beginning of February. Within the first two days, it had 150,000 visitors, thanks to a prominent link from PostSecret, and the catalytic Lollapalooza photo was soon united with its owner.
The Web has always been a playground for voyeurs and a landing pad for found items. Found Magazine posts user-submitted found photos on its site, and a quick Google search for “found photos” brings up 156,000 results, some of them fascinating, many of them grounded in frat-boy humor (i.e., strangers passed out on bathroom floors). Warren says ifoundyourcamera.net is consciously avoiding that kind of unpleasantness. “That might be an issue if anyone else was running the site, but Matt is the perfect person to spearhead this,” he says. “He gives people a feeling that they can trust him.”
Accompanying one of the site’s “orphan pictures” — of an elderly man in a blue windbreaker, standing in front of a blue biplane — is an e-mail: “That is me! It is amazing that I’ll get my camera back. . . . I thought it was long lost.”
Some photos are submitted with stories — “I found this photo in a copy of Collected Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges,” reads an e-mail about a picture of a woman perched atop a rock lakeside. “Whenever I see it, it always intrigues me, as though it were part of the book.” Others begin as mysteries that gradually solve themselves via the comments section, as with a photo of raucous beer-drinking college kids. “That’s from Bloomburg University!” writes an anonymous commenter, and others slowly deduce that it’s from an annual school block party.
Not every lost photo goes straight home, of course. In response to two photos found in Maine, someone writes: “I really like that picture . . . it’s not mine though.”