On Collecting

On Collecting (Kind of)

by Elizabeth Goodspeed

To be honest, there aren’t a lot of memorable books or movies about collecting. What there are, instead, are a lot of great pieces of culture about stuff: about losing stuff and finding it again, about putting lots of the same kind of stuff together, about what stuff means about us as people. 

So, as a self-proclaimed “casual archivist,” I humbly submit to you this syllabus of content I love about stuff and collecting (kind of) — ranging from “definitely about collecting” to “I guess this is about collecting.” Some are academic investigations into the nature of the archive (10 Theses on the Archive), while others use archival content or typologies as basis for their construction (The Clock or A Movie), but my favorites are things that just… *feel* like they’re about collecting (10:04 or Beginners). YMMV.


A Movie (Bruce Conner, 1961)
Beginners (Mike Mills, 2011)
The Booksellers (D.W. Young, 2019)
The Clock (Christian Marclay, 2010)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Lost Landscapes of San Francisco (Rick Prelinger, 2005–present)
Lovely Andrea (Hito Steryl, 2008)
Nitrate Kisses (Barbara Hammer, 1990)
Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)
Tops (Charles & Ray Eames, 1969)
Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2018)


10:04 (Ben Lerner, 2014)
10 Theses on the Archive (Pad.ma collective, 2011)
An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler, 2011)
The Artful Accidents of Google Books (Kenneth Goldsmith, 2013)
Bluets (Maggie Nelson, 2009)
Camera Lucida (Roland Barthes, 1981)
Collecting Printed Ephemera (Maurice Rickards, 1988)
Crap (Wendy A. Woloson, 2020)
Great British Rubbish (Stella Mitchell, 2018)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloane, 2012)
On Research and Archiving (Kameelah Janan Rasheed, 2017)
Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York (James and Karla Murray, 2008)
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (Lorrie Moore, 2004)
World Tour (Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2013)


Antilbraries (Brendan Schlagel, 2016–present)
Catalog Press (Ben Denzer, 2018–present)
Everyone’s Photos Any License (Penelope Umbrico, 2015)
Garden Non-Happening (Elizabeth Corkery, 2014)
I’m Google (Dina Kelberman, 2011–present) —> see her syllabus here
Security Envelopes (Cindy Bernard, 1988)
Typologies (Bernd and Hilla Becher, 1959–2007)
Watercolors (Mark Adams, 1925–2006)
We Buy White Albums (Rutherford Chang, 2014–Present)

On Collecting (Kind of) cites Dina Kelberman, another Syllabus contributor.