Found Art

Seeing the accidental

The Post Star
January 12, 2004
by Martha Petteys

You won't find a wider grin than the one on the face of the Mr. Peanut sitting among a tangle of frizzy-haired maidens.

For lack of a manger, Baby Jesus found himself on the back of a plastic horse. The slouching Raggedy Andy looks like he took a few nips from the bottle at his side.

These are the strange, untampered-with scenes photographer David Doonan finds while trolling through flea markets, antiques stores and yard sales.

European painters were known to spend hours, even days, arranging objects for their still lifes. Doonan gets satisfaction in finding his bizarre and often humorous scenes arranged haphazardly by strangers.

"Basically, when I go out to do this work, I am just looking for stuff that will make me laugh," said Doonan, sitting in his Greenwich home studio.

Over the last two years, Doonan has amassed three to four hundred photographs of sales table scenes that have struck him as odd. He has chosen two dozen for his exhibit, "Found Tableaux," at the Valley Artisans Market in Cambridge Jan. 17 through Feb. 4.

Doonan became a flea market regular in the 1970s, living in New Jersey. He would wander through the rows of "junk" in the early morning hours, talking with the peddlers, snapping off photographs.

His most recent series was inspired by the sight of a Madonna and Child portrait, next to a brass eagle and a skull. The wild table combination got him seeing things in a new way, he said.

His eyes became trained, looking for arrangements that would give him chuckle, like the pair of Ken dolls lounging on the deck of Noah's ark.

He takes the photos as he sees them, without moving or altering the objects in any way.

Most don't mind Doonan's prying digital eye, though there have been a few objectors. Some have accused him of being a competitor trying to get an edge.

He's also been mistaken for a government agent on the hunt for people who don't pay their sales taxes and even for a terrorist.

Doonan explains that he is just an ordinary person with a camera, looking for something to make him laugh.

Then, he leans in for a photo of a dozen topless Barbie dolls.