I have been a fan of Taschen books ever since I started taking photographs. Well, actually even before that - I had always wanted to be an architect and I suddenly saw these gigantic Taschen books (you know, the ones that come with their own book stand) of some of the architects that I loved.
After I completed the documentary on Kenton, he asked me:
K - "Do you know Taschen books?"
Me - "Uhm Yes, of course! Why?"
K - "I want to commission you to do a story on Jim Heimann, and he is the Executive Editor of Taschen - he is a good friend of mine, and he is really amazing. His Taschen books came from the things that he collected from the swap meets and flea markets that he goes to."
Me - *Jaw opened. "Oh wow! Yeah sure! I would definitely LOVE to document him."
K - "Great. He will pick you up tomorrow right before 6am."
Jim was a very personable person. From the place where he picked me up, it probably only took us about 10 minutes to get up to the Rose Bowl. I did some research on him the night before and I got some information but there were so many unknowns. For a person of his position, it seems like he didn't really have a lot of articles on him, which I felt a bit odd.
I was trying to understand what he is looking for, so I can anticipate where he would be and get my shots. So I asked him - "What are you working on and what kind of things are you looking for today?". He then said "Oh I'm always working on 10-15 things at a time so it could be anything." Well, there goes my plan.
In no time, we are inside the gigantic place filled with people setting up their stuff, getting ready for the opening time. I saw tons of U-Haul trucks, people unloading, some saying hi to others, and some just minding their own business. Some people were walking around with portable lights strapped on their foreheads, looking for some stuff. Jim kept saying hi to people, and often gets into conversations with them just about anything almost. He hasn't started looking for his stuff yet.
My camera couldn't focus, because it was so dark. At one point I was taking pictures while I was saying to myself "please be in focus, please be in focus"... and then I switched to full manual mode and because it was so dark, it is also a challenge. So I started chanting again.
Jim moved very quickly. He knew when he has to stop and seem to have that sense of where the good things are going to be in. Stacks after stacks of pictures, newspapers, brochures, matchbox covers. Then I found out from him that he has been religiously going to these flea markets for 40+ years. So then everything made sense. He knew most of the sellers, he has good relationships with them, and he also knew the locations of the type of things that he was looking for. So I rolled with the punches.
During that time I kept on asking him questions, and he really started opening up to me about his work and his passion for his collecting. By the time he dropped me off, I told him that I wanted to download his knowledge like in The Matrix. He knows so much and so many interesting stories.
A few days later I went to Jim's "compound". We recorded for a little bit under 2 hours, and that whole time, I only asked maybe 5 questions. The guy knows how to tell stories. I found myself saying a silent "WOW" so many times and not wanting to have that word showing up in the audio over and over again. He knows his stuff.
He then showed me some of his collections, and it was simply unbelievable.
What makes Jim so special is among other things, that he is a very down to earth guy. He carries himself just like one of the guys. Courteous, funny, non-judgmental, and loves to share stories.
We talked more about his different collections, such as the Shore Leave collection, which consists of Naval officers in Hawaii hanging out at clubs and such, to propaganda posters during the world war, to the collection of condoms as a result of the US government trying to control STDs, and from Hula Girls to the Hula Guys. When Jim starts collecting something and does his massive research, his collection grows from within. A collection within collections, and it never ends.
Towards the end I asked him not to tell me anymore stories, fearing that I would lose focus on what story I want to tell about him. But he got me hooked. Every time I see him now, I ask him what new collections he is working on. I am always hungry for more stories from him.
Jim is a savior of the past. He is constantly educating us through his books.
Watch the 10-minute mixed media documentary here:
Jim Heimann - Collector Documentary