art, Beijing, Buzz, China, Photographs, Photography

Collector finds treasure after developing hundreds of thousands of film negatives found in the trash

Image: beijing silvermine

Thomas Sauvin has spent nearly a decade trawling through film negatives people have thrown away.

The French photography collector buys photographic negatives that are destined for the scrapyard, and brings them back to his studio where he selects, classifies and digitises them.

He has so far developed 750,000 photos over the course of eight years.

Sauvin’s project first started in 2009 when he was travelling around China as a photography collector.

He would spend time in flea markets and find photos developed from negatives, but never the negatives themselves.

Sauvin trawled through online forums and blogs looking for a way to get his hands on one of these negative film rolls — until he finally met Xiao Ma.

“I would be reading blogs and I would always see a guy called Xiao Ma posting saying ‘if you have negatives to sell, get in touch with me’,” Sauvin told Mashable. “So I gave him a call.”

As it turned out, Ma’s job was to collect trash that contained silver nitrate and to deliver them to a recycling plant in Beijing. He collected everything from X-rays from hospitals, CDs, and of course — photographic film negatives.

The 34-year-old struck up a deal with Ma to sell him the negatives instead — and thus the “Beijing Silvermine” project was born.

Some of the negatives he collects are in poor condition, having come into contact with liquids, but Sauvin says that 60 percent of his archive is in “near perfect condition.”

Sauvin, who now resides in Paris but shuttles between France and Beijing, says Ma calls him every time he’s compiled 100kg (220 lbs) worth of 35mm film negatives. Sauvin has been buying them from him ever since.

It wasn’t until 2011 that Sauvin decided to go public with his photography collection.

“It started out as more of my private collection. I was not publishing or showing anything. But after a few years themes started to emerge by themselves — travelling, children, work — so I decided to start putting them into collections,” he said.

Today, Sauvin has produced photobooks, collaborations and even had some of his best works exhibited across the globe.

According to Sauvin, he estimates that most of the photos he has developed were taken between 1985 and 2005.

But out of the 750,000 images he’s developed, which picture is his favourite?

“It would be absolutely impossible for me to have just one favourite. But I am attached to one photo of a woman in an apple green dress that I found in the beginning of my project,” he says.

Image: beijing silvermine

“She’s standing there while a fight between a shark and an octopus is going on. It feels like it was photoshopped but it’s completely analog.”

And how long does Sauvin see the project going on for?

“I still have many things to say and share. I’ve been very lucky to meet this person [Ma], I’ve spent a lot of money on it and enough people are interested,” he said.

“So I think it wouldn’t be very responsible of me to say I’ve had fun and now I’m moving on to something else. No matter what, I feel like I will and must keep on showing these images. I feel like it’s my responsibility.”

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