The Search for a Collection (2018)

In November 2018 I created a series of photographs for an exhibit at Gallery344, located at Yale University. The series is a creative record of my engagement with the artist’s books of photographer Melissa Shook. My artist’s statement for the exhibit is below.


The Search for a Collection, an artist’s book by photographer Melissa Shook, tells the story of an evening that Shook and her daughter Krissy spent at the New England Marble Meet, held at the Radisson Hotel in Marlborough, Massachusetts in October 1995. They were not marble collectors. The stories of the collectors who were there, however, inspired Shook to create her own spontaneous photographic collection that evening. But this innocent group of photographs sparked an unexpected metaphysical investigation into the very idea of what a collection means. “What is our collection?” she wrote. “Is it the negatives I print from?...The images in this pamphlet? How should it be defined? Or cataloged?...What value does it have except the fun we had that Saturday evening?”

As a photographer with a documentary bent, Shook creates extended series of images that naturally function as collections, such as her self-portraits in the 1970s and 1990s; portraits of her daughter; and photographs of the daily detritus of living, making art and drinking coffee. For Shook, despite the metaphysical quandaries experienced at the marble meet, collections abound; for perhaps, after all, a collection is simply a way of seeing, a way of thinking.

As a special collections institution, this is at the heart of what we do at the Beinecke: we collect. We collect collections collected by others; we collect individual works that become part of our collections. Books and manuscripts become collections simply because we collected them. And that’s what happened with a small group of artist’s books created by Shook in the 1990s. We purchased them, they became a collection, and I cataloged them.

Themes emerge from the books despite their disparate subjects—obsession, vulnerability, family, memory, friendship. Moments collected and documented by the author, and then collected and documented again by us. Honoring the spirit of her work and ours, this exhibit is a collection of photographs documenting my experience of the artist’s books of Melissa Shook, as collected by the Beinecke. - MJ Millington