Mike Burgher and Robyn Ciccone often get glimpses into the lives of complete strangers.
Burgher collects old video and TV equipment, cameras and more. Sometimes they will settle in on the couch with an old home movie picked up in a box of old equipment.
While some of the film and video gear gets a spruce up and repairs for resale, Burgher also keeps pieces for his prized collection.
And once in a while, the equipment still includes film or video of the previous owners. It’s a way to see the world through the eyes of previous generations. He’s got an old film marked Germany 1951, and slides of a Canadian family’s trip to Italy in the 1950s. They enjoy seeing the clothing, cars, buildings and people’s interactions from the past.
“We try to guess where they were,” Ciccone said.
But a recent $15 purchase of a 1990s-era digital video camera included a video, and not just any video. It’s a video of a baby’s birth and first year of life.
That got Ciccone interested in solving the mystery of the baby.
It’s not the first time they have found old photos, slides or video in the equipment Burgher picks up at area thrift stores, flea markets, vintage stores, and garage sales mostly in Langley and Surrey.
“I’ve got thousands of slides… from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s,” he said.
But this was different.
“I just thought ‘you know, if this was me, I would totally want to have the video of my baby’s first year’,” Ciccone said.
So she decided to become a lost items sleuth.
“I said ‘I’m going to see how small the world is’,” Ciccone said.
She took some still photos from the video and posted it on social media to find the owner. In less than 24 hours, the friend of the family in the video contacted Ciccone and the Cloverdale couple has since been in touch with that family.
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Burgher is not a lifelong collector.
“I have only been into vintage and antiquities for about five years,” Burgher noted.
For him it was less about nostalgia and more about quality.
“I just got into it, because I was sick and tires of the crap made today,” he said.
The old equipment can be repaired, unlike most modern technology.
His collecting started with old cameras from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. These are cameras that have almost no automation, requiring the photographer to focus manually, and adjust all settings to get the correct exposure.
When Burgher has photos, film or video that are from decades ago and there’s little hope of reconnecting it with previous owners, he and Ciccone enjoy watching them, and they’ve incorporated some images into stylized artworks that the pair create.
Ciccone, who works as a bus driver for special needs people, is not a collector but does enjoy creating vintage and rustic style art pieces under the title the Rustic Robyn.
Burgher, who spent years as a regional photographer doing weddings and family gatherings, still takes photos on film to make art prints. He can obtain the film and developing in the U.S. His go-to camera is almost a century old.
He’s since moved from still cameras into video and film collecting. He has more than a dozen vintage film projectors dating from the 1970s or before, and collecting film projectors means collecting film projector bulbs since that is the part that wears out most often.
“I’ve got bulbs that are over 100 years old,” Burgher said.
His collection also includes music items, such as vinyl and even eight-track cassettes.
He has sold items at the Cloverdale Flea Market, taking advantage of recent collecting trends, and has a hobby business as Von Burgherstein Vintage.
“A lot of people are going retro,” he said. “I’ve sold a lot of vinyl [LPs and other records]”
Typically the photo and film finds are family barbecues, trips, holidays or special occasions, including items about the New Zealand Navy visiting Vietnam years ago. On at least one occasion, he’s found somewhat saucier material – amateur erotica from the ’70s.
In the age of digital, many people got rid of old film and video equipment so they forgot about photos, films and videos in closets and drawers. During estate clear outs, family moves, or family’s breaking apart, the equipment and images often end up heading to secondhand stores or sometimes the landfill.
He said many people still have old slides, photos and film, and can’t afford the high fees to digitize them. The equipment to view them can be picked up for reasonable prices and once in a while, they’ll come with an unexpected surprise.