Mysterious Photographs

Photos have a way of solving old mysteries or giving us a glimpse into the inexplicable, writes today’s guest blogger Daniel Kessel.

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A young man next to a taxi in Ecuador, 1961. Photo courtesy Found magazine.

Today’s guest blogger is Mysterious Ways assistant editor Daniel Kessel.

Recently we wrote about notes from the past that unexpectedly arrive right when we need them.

I haven't received a time-traveling message just yet, but I have noticed an equally fascinating phenomenon: photographs from the past that have a way of reappearing at the right time and place, solving old mysteries or even giving us a glimpse into the inexplicable.

Take Ed Holmes in Mazatlan, Mexico. According to Found magazine, the Seattle native was walking along the beach when he noticed a black-and-white photograph lying in a pile of trash. It showed a young man standing beside a taxicab. Something about the photo called to Ed. He knelt down to take a closer look.

That's when it dawned on him: He knew the young man in the photograph! He was one of Ed's old high school classmates from Seattle. As teens, they’d often discussed their dreams of taking a motorcycle trip down through Mexico and into South America. Ed had always wondered if his old friend ever made it past their hometown of Seattle.

When he examined the picture, he got his answer. The taxi in the photo said “Quito, Ecuador” on the license plate–his friend had made it after all. Ed flipped the photo over and discovered something else. An inscription: “Thank you for your help on my trip around the world, Seattle, Washington 4/3/61.” What were the chances that Ed would stumble upon the photograph of his old friend, taken in Ecuador, within a pile of trash on a beach in Mexico?

And in New York, Donald Lokuta discovered an entire series of remarkable photographs: 450 self-portraits of one man, all taken in an old-fashioned photo booth. An early collection of what we now call “selfies,” the photographs raise more questions than answers: In particular, just who was this mystery man?

“I knew this was very rare,” Donald told "But on a deeper level, I wondered, ‘Why would somebody want to take almost 500 photos of himself in a photo booth?’"

One thing's for sure: Donald uncovered the photos at a most opportune time. His friend, museum curator Donna Gustafson, was gathering works for a new exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The exhibition’s theme? Examining the modern history of the portrait. The perfect place to introduce the mysterious collection of photographs to the public. No one has identified the mystery man so far, but who knows? The right person just might attend the upcoming exhibition and recognize an old friend of their own.

It’s not the first time the story of a photograph has caught our attention. Whether it’s the picture that saved a girl’s eyesight or the fateful photograph that captured a happy couple in the same place long before they fell in love, photographs have a special way of capturing a hidden meaning, then reappearing when we least expect them.

How about you–what treasures do you have in your old photo albums, just waiting to be discovered? Submit a story today!

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