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What do you do with your old magazines or newspapers? Or (if like me you’re a photographer) your discarded contact sheets and unused prints that won’t ever see the light of day? Or even random bits of printed matter that catch your eye lying around on the street? Well call me old-fashioned, but I still gather them into what once upon a time we used to call scrapbooks.

I wasn’t even sure if scrapbooks still existed when I began writing this post (although I suppose Pinterest is a digital version of sorts), but a quick search on Amazon threw up a slew of very fancy versions so I guess they are still ‘a thing’.

Anyway, if you don’t know what one is, basically the idea is to collect your scraps and cutouts, get jiggy with glue and/or tape, and paste them into your book how you want. It’s lo-fi curation at it’s most hands on and tactile. But more than that it’s also a great form of creative freewheeling and play.

I tend to cut up a lot of my own work and use it quite brutally. In fact, as you can see from the images above, I often score and scratch the surfaces with a knife and then paint over them. Maybe that’s a healthy form of deconstruction?

I also give vent to verbal imagery and thoughts that don’t follow any logic or might rise as a suggestion from what I’ve pasted together. A kind of automatic writing.

And yes I confess to appropriating some found imagery and using it in contexts that wouldn’t normally be their home, so apologies if anyone out there is offended. I’m not making any money from them but using them because they are usually visually striking or speak to me in some way.

Anyway if cutting things up and sticking them in over-sized books appeals to you, I recommend it as a creative tool. It helps ‘out of the box’ thinking, breaks down ideas that have been stuck, preconceptions, or points to new directions. It also helps remove preciousness or perfectionism which in my case can only be a good thing.

Mostly though the value of a scrapbook is simply in the doing, the cutting and pasting, a form of collecting and ‘doodling’. The joy is enough.

Why am I highlighting this today in terms of my image making?

Well, recently I’ve given myself permission to try to unlearn elements of my practice as a photographer (and my ‘learned’ historic creativity in general) – to try to see again after half a lifetime of believing I was ‘seeing’. I’m hoping this will alter and improve my creative output. The scrapbook process is really helpful here. It’s pure playing. Trying to leap over or around logic and reason. And it often throws up unexpected things: unique juxtapositions, project ideas, a ‘hook’ or theme, who knows. 

One thing I have noticed is that a scrapbook distills the symbols and visual elements that I find appealing. It generates a kind of personal lexicon or dictionary and that is great to mine elsewhere in my work.

So forgive my indulgence in showing some pages here from my scrapbooks, but I hope that this might be impetus enough to send you on a quest to start (or keep going with) your own.

Actually there’s a great book called Photographer’s Sketchbooks published by Thames & Hudson that’s worth checking out – I’m not alone!!

So is there anyone else out there that indulges this passion for scrapbooks? I’d love to hear from you or better still share some of your pages if you can.

All images © James Bellorini 2015

James is a commercial, editorial and documentary photographer. He started shooting professionally in 2013 and has since worked with advertising agencies, design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models, and culture and entertainment organisations/brands. Recent clients include: Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Sonisphere UK, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc.