Babbette Hines, 37, is a photographer and the author of two gorgeous books that celebrate ephemera: Photobooth (2002) highlights her vast archive of vintage and contemporary self-portraiture, and Love Letters, Lost (out now) includes dozens of cast-off missives, circa 1850-1950, from ardent lovers whose words still seduce, cajole, scold, amuse, and enrapt with surprising power. Love Letters pairs these fading, intimate documents with evocative snapshots of happy couples doing what happy couples do best: snogging, cuddling, mugging, and generally being notably in love. Hines and her husband, director Carlos Grasso, live in Los Angeles amid untold thousands of photographs, letters, and record albums.
1 Are you a pack rat? Yes. No. Well, it sounds ridiculous but I feel sorry for things. I don’t have space for broken bits of furniture, so I’m always bringing home letters and photos. I also buy homemade clothes that are horrible—really ugly handmade things.
2 What do you do when you’re not looking for treasures? I work at Arcana, a store in L.A. that deals in out-of-print arts books. I sell snapshots I’ve collected at photo shows. And like everyone here, I think about moving back to New York, but I don’t want to move back to New York and be a cliché.
3 Do you ever get rid of things? I don’t—just the images I buy strictly to sell. It’s good that most of what I collect is small.
4 Tending to your collection must be a big commitment. What makes it worth it? I really love what I’ve done—though it’s not very lucrative, and I don’t want to come off as an egomaniac about it. But if you believe in something absolutely, the cream rises to the top. Even if it seems you have to wait forever, it’s worth it. The ways people express themselves, live their lives—define them as people. So if I’m going to take their things home, I feel like I have a responsibility to them.
5 What’s next for you? Having a gallery is my dream—all found images I’ve collected. I felt like I had to do Love Letters so I wouldn’t be just another “one-book wonder.” And I’d like to do another one. . . . It’s always about the process for me—obsessive collecting, relentlessly going through it all looking for that tiny gem—so I don’t have to think about the other stuff in my life. And it’s so nice to finish something, so you can let it go.
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