Left & Found

In Creativity and Inspiration, Just For Fun, News & Stuff, The Life Creative, Vision Is Better by David59 Comments

Left & Found I and II, Liguria, Italy 2013

I started a new project this weekend, excited by the possibilities and driven by the need to just get my work out there. So often I think we pull back from sharing our work for fear of the cost, fear of a loss of control, fear of theft, fear of rejection and God knows what else. And so it sits on hard-drives, sits on shelves. I want mine out there, and last year at one of our Vancouver Gatherings someone asked me for some ideas on sharing and I threw this one out: print your work and leave it somewhere. A random act of guerilla-style spreading of beauty. If what you really want is just to share it, why not?

And then the idea kept poking at me until I was sitting at Milano, the coffee shop in my new neighborhood in Vancouver’s Gastown, reading a book about ideas and creativity and out of nowhere it came back, this time with a name: Left & Found. So every month I’m printing between 20 and 40 prints in an on-going limited edition series. All about 8×5, they’re printed on fine art paper, hand-signed and numbered, and I’ve written a small URL on the back so people can find more information about the Left &Found project. The first ones get placed this week. In a year I’ll have put almost 400 prints out there, left on coffee shop tables, counters, in restaurants and shops – to be found, enjoyed, overlooked, torn, bent, collected, adored, misunderstood, or whatever else happens to our art when we release it into the world to take on a life we could never have foreseen.

It’s not much, but the more I do this the more sure I am that the question, “How can I make money at this?” isn’t remotely as interesting as a simpler question: how can I create work I love and share that work in new ways?


  1. Pingback: Greeting Cards « M&M's Musings

  2. I see lots of folks saying, let me know how it goes… I encourage us all to do something similar in the “random acts of art” vein. Myself, I have been thinking along similar lines for awhile, but was afraid folks would treat it as an “ad” – rather than a pebble tossed in a still pond – if I put a name and URL on it, so was just going to do 4″x6″ drugstore prints. (Which I, too, send as postcards.) Having David’s better size/quality/edition stance might be a way to step-up the response from a stranger. My favorite fantasy at this point is a “guerrilla gallery” (perhaps anonymous and deserted, perhaps hosted) with prints hanging for an afternoon in an alley or breezeway. I don’t even try to sell any photos these days… I just inflict them upon people.

    1. I love your “guerrilla gallery” idea. I love David’s Left & Found idea too. There are pro’s and con’s to any idea, but until you do it you don’t really know how it will be received. Wow – reading this really motivated me and I want to give it a try.

  3. The “give and you shall receive” philosophy is part of all major religions. There is probably a good reason for that.

    I’m sure your gift to the world will come back to you many times over. Keep us posted. I’d love to hear how the experiment unfolds.

  4. One of our photoclub members sent this link out for us to read. It’s great he shared this with everyone. I’ve never heard of you but from what I’ve read you are well liked and respected for your art. I love that you want to PRINT your work and put it out there for anyone and everyone. It’s kind of like getting a letter or card in the mail vs. email or texting…it’s old fashioned but hey, it’s real! Brilliant!

  5. Awesome idea David! I hope you bring a few prints to Fredericton in a few weeks time when you are at Canadian Camera Conference 2013 and sprinkle them around our lovely city for local folks to enjoy.

  6. David, a great idea, but I see limitations. First you speak of spreading these about. Given you are a world traveller you will have the capacity to take your images to places that most of us never will get to. So our audience would be be where we live. This in itself is not bad but a small audience. Mind you through the Internet we can reach a farther audience than leaving prints behind. Plus, again through the Internet, our audience can have their own ‘copy’ of our work whether digitally or printed out. (And you KNOW this is happening) not limited to 1 of 10. Those who do come across your Left and Found will probably take that copy and leave nothing behind for the next person. Understand that I am not discouraging you from your goal. I am just pointing out some less desirable results of your noble undertaking.

    1. Maybe it’s just me but I think you are missing part of what makes this project quite special. It is a selfless act of handing out ‘art objects’ that are actually produced by the artist. You suggest using the using the internet…well, anyone can look at images on a computer screen but this is far removed from the tactile feeling derived when holding and viewing an actual, physical print. And yes it would be nice if David were able to leave prints in other parts of the world (personally I’d like him to leave one outside my door for me!) but he is just one man and at least he’s doing something which is kind and already generous. I’m not sure that people leaving something behind is really part of this exercise and if it is then them not doing so is just a risk you take. In my earlier comment I mentioned a ‘bookcrossing’ we took part in. The ‘bookcrossing’ was undertaken by the Scottish Government and it’s purpose was to help generate interest in Scotland. A number of people who picked up the book logged onto the website to say they were keeping it because they liked it so much…so what?…the book is giving them pleasure and it was seen by literally thousands of other people anyway. David’s idea is slightly different and what you appear to see as a limitation (a small audience) to me makes it more special, it is about disseminating art to people who are lucky enough to find it. If more artists did or were in a position to do the same the world might be a more creative and better place.

      As a slight aside but in a similar altruistic vein an anonymous artist has placed beautiful sculptures made from books around the Scottish capital…they are well worth a look (see http://thisiscentralstation.com/featured/mysterious-paper-sculptures/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-20466495 )

      1. Ross, I was playing Devil’s Advocate…something I do quite often most often to my detriment. 🙂 I wasn’t “Poo Pooing” David’s plan. Hell, I’d love to come across one of these proposed prints myself. I was really only commenting on the limitations imposed by a small run/local distribution. Even you expressed a desire to find one outside of your door which adds to my view. That said, not all commentary is negative or critical…sometimes it’s just a comment.

        In the past I came across a book of poetry somewhere (can not remember the place, time or circumstances) and inside on the back of the cover was a bookplate which, in effect, read “Read this with enjoyment, then pass it on”. I like that thought. I have my own library of books at home, some I have read many times, some I have not and some I have never read (but still mean to do). Often those books I reread multiple times have nuances that bring me back in (JRR Tolkien, Umberto Eco) and keep me captivated yet again. These I keep while the others I’d probably give away. But these were printed/reprinted in the 10’s or 100’s of thousands. So they have a wide audience. Even so they, my copies, are precious to me.

        I took a look at those links you added in your reply. Excellent work …but ‘one offs’. Given the limitation of a VERY small run (i.e. One Copy Only) and given that they are in Scotland and I’m here in Canada, the liklihood that I will be in close proximity of them to be able to enjoy them within arms reach is highly unlikely. The only way I can view and appreciate them is via photos taken of them and posted on the Internet. So the immediate limitations (number and location) are overcome by the use of multiple photographs posted on a website. Yes, this does limit the chance of actually experiencing the ‘…tactile feeling derived when holding and viewing an actual, physical [print]…” but then again these objects will, in all liklihood be ‘put away safe’ in some form of glassed in cabinet so to keep others from manhandling them…Look but don’t Touch. 🙁

        Where am I going with this?…probably nowhere. I’m mostly just musing. Playing Devil’s Advocate. 🙂

        1. Hi Richard,

          Good to know you were only playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’. I’m glad you like the links to the book sculptures, they are wonderful. I still don’t really get why you appear to be so hung up about some pieces of art being ‘one offs’. Here’s a thought (playing Devil’s Advocate) perhaps Da Vinci, van Gogh, Monet, O’Keeffe, Hopper, Pollock, Hockney etc shouldn’t have bothered because they were just producing ‘one offs’ and their work would only be on view to people who make the effort to go to a gallery? Just a thought from a wee Scottish Devil. >; [

          All the best,

          PS Come over to Scotland on holiday, visit a gallery and see the book sculptures and other ‘one offs’…it’s actually quite good fun.

    2. I don’t see your point, Richard. I’m leaving these locally, not abroad. And if I send them abroad it will be in an envelope to a friend who can leave them lying around. Anyone can do that. And my point is to leave hard copies for people to find, and take, and do as they wish. I see nothing at all undesirable here. Just because it’s not scalable doesn’t mean it’s not good. Over the course of a year it’s 400 small prints going into the world. What happens to them isn’t my concern, only that they have a chance.

      1. Hi David. Please do not get me wrong on my comment. I do like where this is going…sort of like a message in a bottle with an unknown destination and an unknown recipient. The limitation of run and location does make it more special than running off thousands of photolithographs in multiple print shops spanning the globe. As I said in my reply to Ross (above) I do hope that I may come across a copy myself.

        I was really only playing Devil’s Advocate. 🙂

        1. We’re good. These comments are so limited in how we communicate and what actually gets heard. As always, I think the questions more interesting than the answers. 🙂

  7. Guerilla art-fare! Very cool idea indeed. Just a practical question: are you going to leave the prints in some kind of plastic folder/protector thing to ward off the elements? It would be sad if they’d get drenched before someone even beheld them! Could be called the “forgotten project” or something else melo dramatic. Hope the project name proposal isn’t linked to anything negative, I didn’t Google it. Cheers!

  8. Hey David,

    It is really incredible to grasp the depth of your creativity!! Your work ethic is untouchable… Creativity and hard work, great combo for success… Going to drop any of those off in Kansas?? Will keep the eyes open 🙂 Any framed copies??


  9. I did that with some of my poetry a few years ago… wrote it out, tied it to trees, stuffed it in library books, left it on shelves in art galleries and tucked under stones in parks. I have no idea what happened to any of it, but I sure had fun doing it!

    I have a stack of polaroids here I think I will gift to the world after reading this. Better than leaving them sitting in a box!

  10. David – another great idea and a very good follow on from your article in “Photograph – Issue 3”. That fear you speak of is so real and learning to overcome it with some very simple steps is something that we can all take on board. Thanks and kudos.

  11. David, you always make me think about other possibilities. What an awesome project. This is truly a beautiful way to share your art. So simple!

    Carol…I love your idea of printing out the photos and sharing with the grandkids. I have 15 of them, so that’s a lot of sharing, but they love my pictures.

    Both of you…thanks for sharing such and awesome idea.


  12. I, too, wondered about the value of my images stuck on my computer. So, I decided to print them as 4X6, use them as postcards, write personal notes on the backs of the picture, and send one to the grand kids every day. Sometimes they have poetry, sometimes silliness, sometimes a memory but they always evoke a reaction in the family and we have a special connection. It’s fun to see which ones they like the best and why. Lots to talk about when I see them. And then we make more pictures for me to send to them as postcards…

  13. Brilliant. Imagine if some people picked them up and transported them elsewhere, only to leave them for others to find. How fascinating.

  14. Great idea, David!

    Also, I find the first paragraph of your post liberating. I now feel freer to share my work. Thanks.

  15. When you scatter seeds in the wind, who can tell where they may land and grow…

    We all should give fate more opportunity to intervene in our lives.

    The bottom line, this has to be good for your karma.


  16. David ~ this is a wonderful idea and project! One can only imagine how many folks this project will touch. The concept reminds me of a quote by Mother Teresa that a friend sent me, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great great love”.
    Spreading art love, one small print at a time…. wish I lived close 🙂

  17. That does it…I’m moving to Vancouver. Well maybe not, but I love your idea. Also, the beginning discussion about sharing work, I’m always hesitant to share pieces of a project before it’s complete. There’s no real reason I should feel that way, I think it’s just human nature.

    Maybe I’ll upload an image or two tonight.

  18. But gasp! You won’t get paid for these! Blasphemy! 😉

  19. What an awesome idea. I envy the folks in Vancouver who will come across the work you leave behind. I hope they realzie how lucky they are.

  20. nice idea David. When you say handsigned and numbered, what does numbered mean? May be a stupid question but just got me curious 🙂

    1. Author

      Ved, I’ve created this series as limited editions. So in this case each of the photographs you see above are printed in a series limited to 10. So I numbered each one – 1/10, 2/10, etc. and signed them, just as I would a larger print sold to a client.

  21. Absolutely love the idea. I used to do this with books I was reading while travelling. I can’t wait to one day find one of your photos just lying around for me to pick up, appreciate and pass on again.

  22. Once again, I’m filled with gratitude for the way in which you show us a better way to live.

  23. David, great idea, and a ton of fun for the finders.

    How about another idea: Randomly pick one person who has commented on your blog, or your Facebook page, get their address and send them a print or two. Just for fun.

    I’ll even be humble enough to refrain from saying, “Pick me!”

  24. simple..and fantastic…and simple again:)!
    to be honest i used to think about smth like that pushed by what i saw in subway where people used to left their magazines they don’t need anymore for others.
    Smth like this was (or authorities wanted to do so – don’t remember) applied in buses where were books you could read during the ride…
    keepin’ fingers crossed… and maybe one day i will finaly do this here in my country/city 🙂

  25. David – this is a great idea! I like the simplicity of it – that It’s about the art – and not the ROI. The basic concept is straight forward – but I think you’ve added some great details here (limited edition, website, fine art paper, hand signed,written URL’s) – and the goal of 400 prints isn’t trivial.

    Look forward to hearing how the project goes. I think regardless of the feedback – it’ll be successful.

    And just curious – which book were you reading?

  26. Thinking outside of the box is always a good idea to bring new possibilities to the surface. Best wishes for a successful project.

  27. Great Idea David. Would be fantastic to find a piece of art randomly during the day.
    But I would be worried that the prints would be thrown out.
    It would also be cool to track the prints with a unique URL so you know if someone is enjoying it and which print it was, where you left it etc (kind of like what happens with email campaign tracking with mailchimp).

  28. David,

    This is an exciting, generous, inspired idea! I also suffer from a mysterious reluctance to post or share. For me, it’s concern over whether they’re “good enough.” “Have I taken/cropped/processed this to the best it can be?” “What if it’s not good enough?” “What if it’s…(holding me breath now)…boring?” So much anxiety. You’re right – we create this to express, and that is enhanced greatly by sharing. Thank you for the reminder! Tricia

  29. This is a beautiful idea. This seems like such a fantastic paring with what I know of you from your writing and work. Thank you for being a continued inspiration. I see some kid finding one of these and holding on to it not yet understanding why he loves it so much only to later in life develop a love for this or some other form of art. That idea is slanted from my own experience of raising foster / adopting children but the idea and knowledge of how little acts impact little lives gives me chills. So very cool.

  30. What a great idea. Wish I lived in Vancouver, instead of on the otherside of the world, so I had a chance of finding one!

  31. I love this idea….there are going to be some very lucky people out there!

    The Scottish Government undertook a kind of similar exercise in the form of a ‘bookcrossing’ with a book of our portraits (‘as others see us’)…the idea being to try and generate interest in Robert Burns and Scotland. Numbered copies of the book were left on park benches, in cafes etc. around Sydney, Australia for people to pick up, hopefully enjoy and then leave in another location for another passerby to pick up. In each book there was a slip of paper asking people to log onto a website and record where and when they had picked up and then left the book…it was fascinating to watch as they started showing up in Bali, Los Angeles, Berlin etc. You can see some information about the project at http://www.broaddaylightltd.co.uk/as-others-see-us/ and http://www.broaddaylightltd.co.uk/as-others-see-us-tn-html/

  32. What a fantastic idea! While my first thought was that I agree that there should be a place for the finders to give feedback, I can see where the lack of feedback would also give this a certain level of selflessness.

  33. I think it’s a great way to share and brighten the world. I’m just sad that I don’t live near enough to stumble upon one very likely…

  34. What a great idea! It would be a nice if the “finders” could post on a note on your project website saying where the found it, what they think and what they will do with the image.

    I’ll keep my eyes open next time I hop on the Seabus for a visit to Gastown or Yaletown.

  35. what a great, selfless idea! i think i’m gonna do something like this too…
    thanks for sharing

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