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Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past

Ransom Riggs has an unusual hobby: he collects old photographs of people he doesn't know. But it's not necessarily about the snapshots themselves — the interesting part is what's written on the backs. Riggs explains:

When you’re looking through bins of thousands of random, unsorted photos, every hundredth one or so will have some writing on it. It’s generally just identifying information (“me and Jerry at the Grand Canyon, 1947″), but every once in a while I'll find a something surprising, emotional, candid, hilarious, heartbreaking -- a few words that bring the picture to life in a profound new way, transforming a blurry black-and-white snapshot of people who seem a million miles and a million years away into an intensely personal sliver of experience that anyone can relate to. It becomes something not just to look at, but to listen to.

(YouTube link)

The following photos are excerpted from Talking Pictures, which is on sale today.

From the chapter "Clowning Around," which is 100% tomfoolery:

This one's from "Love and Marriage" -- in this case the subject has neither:

This is from "Times of Trouble," which in this case gives us a little insight into what people did to survive during the depression (or maybe he's joking? we'll never know). In case you can't make out the handwriting, it says "Stealing everything I could get my hands on. Ha ha"

And from "Hide This Please," which demonstrates how people have always felt self-conscious about how they look in pictures, since time immemorial.

We love Talking Pictures so much that we're giving away a copy to one lucky Neatoramanaut! Just leave a comment here telling us which picture you like best, and we'll choose a winner by random drawing. Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to commenter Frenchmell, who wins the book!


With the candid quirkiness of Awkward Family Photos and the confessional intimacy of PostSecret, Ransom Riggs's Talking Picturesis a haunting collection of antique found photographs—with evocative inscriptions that bring these lost personal moments to life. Each image in Talking Pictures reveals a singular, frozen moment in a person’s life, be it joyful, quiet, or steeped in sorrow. Yet the book’s unique depth comes from the writing accompanying each photo: as with the caption revealing how one seemingly random snapshot of a dancing couple captured the first dance of their 40-year marriage, each successive inscription shines like a flashbulb illuminating a photograph’s particular context and lighting up our connection to the past.

Ransom Riggs is an LA-based photographer, filmmaker and the author of best-selling illustrated novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. We also love his series of photoessays, Strange Geographies, on Mental Floss.

Talking Pictures is available at Amazon and bookstores near you.


Authors and publishers: Want to feature your book on Neatorama for free? Email info AT neatorama DOT com for details on Neatorama's Book Excerpt feature.


I like the self conscious woman... did she write to tear this up on the back? And if she did, I wonder why she didn't herself... maybe a part of her does like her legs!
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My favourite is Tear This Up. She must have sent it to someone she could trust enough to laugh along with her, not at her.
I really liked his photographs in Miss Peregrine's home for peculiar children.
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My fave is of the man touching the car. I think he wrote "Stealing everything I could get my hands on" because of the expression of the guy photobombing in the backround.

My parents would write love letters on the back of pics of each other while my dad was stationed in Vietnam.
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I love Nobody's Baby. I imagine her taking that picture and sending it to someone to tell them their relationship was over...or it didn't stand a chance to begin with.
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So hard to choose between Nobody's Baby and I'm Stealing everything, but I'd have to go for the former I think - I relate to that one more!
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I'm nobody's baby....I look at that photo and hear Bonnie Raitt's "Nobody's Girl" in my head...and the longer I look at her face, the more she has that beautiful soft look that Bonnie holds in her eyes. Yet all the while, you can see that she is fierce and tough....and a lot like this nobody's girl, too.
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