n 2001, Davy Rothbart and Jason Bitner scotch-taped together the first issue of Found magazine, a depot for the curious artifacts found in the alleyways, abandoned fields and schoolyards of the world — everything from break-up notes to drunken photos to missing pet posters. Found quickly grew into a phenomenon with an army of scourers eagerly sharing their discoveries with fans like Ira Glass and Drew Barrymore. Appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, national tours, and a book followed suit, but the Midwestern boys still didn’t have a place to put all the nudie photos they’d collected over the years, all the mash notes, vainglorious illustrations and steamy how-tos.
They didn’t want to put them in Found, where they could, as Bitner says, “offend my grandmother and possibly my mother.” Thus, the Dirty Found Picture Club was born, a semi-monthly email blast containing one naughty photo from the archives. The response has been enthusiastic, to say the least. Not that Bitner was surprised: “People like the smut. As soon as we started hearing back that it was one of their favorite arms of our project, we decided we should make a print version.” Nerve spoke with Bitner about the inaugural issue of Dirty Found, available mid-November. — Margaret Wappler Besides offending older family members, were there any other reasons you made a separate magazine for the dirty finds?
With Found, we want to touch on all sorts of emotions and experiences rather than just focusing on sex. By creating Dirty Found, we’re giving a bigger peephole into that particular subject. Would printing dirty pictures in the regular Found throw it off balance?
It probably would step up the intensity of the entire magazine. The dirty things are more charged, at times, than some of the more subtle to-do lists. And it’s not so much about subtlety with Dirty Found. It has much more to do with how people depict themselves, how they view themselves sexually, how they talk about it, and how they view themselves with their partners. After everything was collected, I started to realize that Dirty Found is more like a visual Kinsey report. You get photographs, but also notes and texts to go along with it. Whose idea was it to have the Found staff posing naked in compromising positions?
Well, there is no actual photo of us naked. That’s a found photograph that we claimed as our own… but I’m totally open to the idea. Actually, now that I’m dealing with these photographs, I’m much less worried about how I would be depicted nude. Of everything here, seriously, there is nothing erotic about the magazine whatsoever. Really?
Yeah, Dirty Found has so few pictures that people could actually jack off to. It’s just naked — not beautiful or erotic — images of men and women in their finest moments. These are shots and images and thoughts that are very raw and not really attractive. I wish I could say otherwise. What are some of your personal favorite finds in Dirty Found?
The most interesting things for me are the illustrations. The photographs, again, are not particularly attractive or creative — it’s someone sitting on their bed half-naked and the lighting is awful… but the illustrations are really fascinating because these are people who are sitting down thinking about how to draw people either having sex or sitting on a vibrator or whatever. They’re not great artists, they’re just people who are thinking about sex and wanting to see this image that is in their minds. What is the ideal dirty find?
I’ve always had a thing for Polaroids. You know it’s one-of-a-kind. There’s no negative sitting around somewhere; this is the one moment someone decided to take a photograph. And then somehow, somewhere along the line, either someone threw it away, or maybe they broke up with a lover and they decided they wanted to get rid of it. You have to imagine being in the sexual act, taking out a Polaroid camera, which is super bulky and awkward. I just love imagining people in the intimate moments that they are taking these photos. So there’s this really special moment of taking the photo. And then trying to imagine what happens between that moment and then the moment that someone else finds it on the street and decides to send it to us. Have you ever made any dirty finds yourself?
I remember when I was like eleven years old and I was taking these drawing classes, and I was feeling like I was really an artist, so I sat down with this big pad of paper, and I was watching TV with my Dad, and I remember drawing women’s bodies with enormous tits and just like the most ridiculous images of what a woman would look like naked. After half an hour, my dad got curious and was like, “What are you drawing?” I had been drawing very intently and I was super, super embarrassed. So he looked at them and then we had this really awkward conversation about, "Well, a woman’s body has always been thought of as very erotic, and what you’re doing fits in with what artists have been working on all this time." I have no idea what happened to those drawings. I can only hope that they’re going to show up in my mailbox one day. Do you consider yourself a voyeur?
Oh, absolutely. I think it has more to do with a healthy curiosity about other people’s lives and wanting to place myself in context with everyone else. These are the things that we compare. How do other people deal with sex? Who’s doing what? Am I normal? That’s what it keeps coming back to. What works for me may not work for someone else. What have you learned about people by putting together Found and Dirty Found?
First off, not that many people are attractive. It has less to do with what body you have and more to do with how you project yourself. There are wonderful shots of regular people. It’s not like traditional manufactured porn where there’s a certain kind of imagined perfection about these bodies. And despite the fact that this magazine ends up being not that erotic, it gives the sense that there’s a real variety of ways that people express themselves sexually. And I think it’s really heartening because people can’t work-out all their lives; these are real people just trying to be attractive to their partner and they figure it out one way or another. I noticed that many of these pictures look old, from the ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s. Why the gap in time?
Well, Polaroids tend to instantly fade but the other thing is that people aren’t really losing digital photographs. Digital photography is used really heavily for these kind of personal shots because you don’t have to bring them to the photo store for someone else to look at. So I think the technology shift keeps those photographs from being physically lost. We’re not really putting a lot of found stuff from the Internet in the magazine because it just doesn’t feel the same. I’m more interested in the story behind something being lost in the world rather than accidentally forwarded. I noticed some stuff was found around high schools. I could just hear Dr. Phil’s voice, panicked, asserting yet again that there’s an oral sex epidemic ravaging America’s youth.
[Laughs] Um, I don’t really have Dr. Phil’s voice in my head — ever. But I can hear it as you mention it. I think it makes sense because when you’re around that age in high school and college, you’re discovering your sexuality and really thinking a lot about it and probably having a lot of sex. There is all this discovery, both in terms of what they’re doing but also in terms of how they want to act sexually. My favorite place for things to be found is the workplace. Who do you think is naughtier: the secretary or the CEO?
Well, in my experience … [Laughs] Gosh, I don’t know. We’ll figure that out as soon as we get more dirty submissions. With more numbers, we’ll be able to maybe [switches to “official” voice] tease out some statistical analysis.
So, how do people react when you tell them about this project?
I’ve become a lightning rod! There are all these strangers that are opening up to me now. They tell me about their sex lives, what they’ve found. I’ll be standing in a bar and someone will introduce me as doing this magazine and people will be like, "Oh, I’m knitting these crotchless panties! There’s a bumblebee on them that says, Show me the honey." This actually happened to me. And I was like, "Great! I love it!" I would’ve never heard about that before. n°
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