Forgotten photos inspire documentary decades later

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Andy Goddard and James Bennett collected unclaimed photos left in photo booths around Paris when they were LDS missionaries in the city in the ’90s. The missionaries began collecting the photos a few months into their missions and compiled them in an album. The resulting collection captured Parisians of the ’90s.

Now, 20 years later, the former missionaries are trying to return the photos to their rightful owners. Their journey to find these random photo booth customers of Paris is the subject of a documentary in progress titled “Love, Don’t Leave Me.” Joel Addams is the documentary director.

One of the photos found in a Paris photo booth. The film is hoping to reunite the photographs with its subjects. (Love Don’t Leave Me/Facebook)

At first, Goddard and Bennett began collecting the photos because photo booths were so prominent.

“France is a very bureaucratic nation, and often you need to submit a picture of yourself as part of that bureaucratic process,” Bennett said. “If you’re applying for a passport or ID card, you need to provide your own pictures. As such, there are photo booths everywhere — at least where people congregate: train stations, shopping malls, grocery stores. If people didn’t like how the pictures turned out or they were suddenly rushed for time, they left them behind.”

Bennett picked up the first photo on the slim chance he might run into that person in real life. In his head, he thought he could use it as a “quirky way to get them to talk to me about the church.” But as he and Goddard collected more, the photos began to take on a personal importance beyond just snapshots of strangers.

“In a part of the world where missionary work isn’t always very successful in a traditional sense,” Bennett said. “I sometimes needed something to look forward to, and building the collection, seeing the people in the pictures as people I may be able to find and teach, got me through some times when we were having very little luck finding investigators.”

Bennett now believes it’s time to see if he can finally return the photos to the people who had them taken.

Bennett said the idea of a documentary was difficult at first because they were not sure what the subject would be.

The film’s title over a fragment of a photograph. The film concerns photographs found in Paris photo booths in the late ’90s. (Love Don’t Leave Me/Facebook)

“Is it about where the collection will end up?” Bennett said. “Possibly back in the hands of some of the people in the pictures, possibly in the hands of a more serious collector or archivist? We’re not sure. The documentary is just that — the three of us revisiting the collection and exploring the possibilities of where we could go from here.”

But as they honed down the subject, the main impetus behind “Love, Don’t Leave Me” became seeing whether it is even possible to return any of these pictures back to the people they belong to.

“We have tried to make patterns out of chaos, and to make connections where possibly none exist and to discover the lives of a few random people,” Bennett said. “Joel (the director) has filmed the process of Andy’s and my search to see if anyone is still out there.”

A photograph found in a Paris photo booth. The film hopes to find some of the people in the photographs. (Love Don’t Leave Me/Facebook)

The film’s creators are attempting to spread the photos as far as possible through social media and word-of-mouth. They post the photo booth pictures on their social media accounts and ask followers to tag anyone who resembles the person in the photo.

The film uses a number of real world theories to bring their goal to reality, including the “six degrees of separation” theory, which says that every person in the world is at most six “friends-of-a-friend” degrees away from any other person.

Through social media, the worldwide gap of communication has been significantly shortened to about three-and-a-half degrees. The film’s producers hope to use this to an advantage in their journey.

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