Hello, my name is Tom and I am a travelling antiquarian. Probably the last nomad of the kind, spending half of my time on road and searching for old forgotten images in Tirana and Thessaloniki, Amman and Athens, Beirut and Belgrade – just to name a few.
I like telling stories about my travels and people I met there (many of my customers know, that I can sometimes chat through the night about my day's adventures somewhere in dark cellars of Istanbul, side streets of Tirana or slums of Cairo).
My today's story is about Maksim (aka Max) – the next “last nomad” of the tribe of antiquarians, who could as easily become a professional "bad guy" if our ways wouldn't have drossed.
Max is 13, and he has been helping me to choose and buy photos for almost a year now (and he is really good at this – there are professional collectors, who specially ask for Max's choice in their orders).
Max was too unlucky to be born in a run-down small town in south of Ukraine, which was a “secret city” during the Soviet period. When Ukraine became independent, most factories were closed, people lost their jobs – and who were able, left the town or even the country for better life.
Max is a grandson of one of my childhood friends (yes, I lived in Estonia and she lived in Ukraine, but back in 1980's it was one big happy Soviet Union). We hadn't met with Lena for many many years until I was in Ukraine for work last summer, and came to see her town.
And, as said by the President of Ukraine, the town where Max and his family live, is the most “criminal” town in the country. No surprise that by the time, when Max was 12 (last summer) he had been engaged in bad company, had several encounters with police, was drinking alcohol and smoking (80% of kids in this town do) and stopped learning at school few years before.
All prerequisites existed that he would sooner or later end up in juvenile detention centre (and he was totally aware about this himself, but he had lost all hope for better life). Until, one day when he was visiting me, he became interested in my boxes of old photos, which I was scanning for my web stores.
That's how it all began, with Max becoming a godson for me, and spending all time free from school with old photos in my apartment, reading about the history of photography and searching for old photos on flea markets and antiquarian stores.
Concerning all other things – he was like a Mowgli from a jungle. Perhaps it's not possible to understand for people not living in Ukraine, but this kid with high IQ (as it came out later), who knows much too much about history, biology, medicine, and everything else which interests him, had only “one's” on his school report (with 12 being the highest grade in Ukraine and 1 the lowest).
Even more, he had finished seven classes (years) in Ukrainian school, but didn't speak a word of Ukrainian (Max comes from a Russian-speaking family, so he spoke Russian with his teachers as well). He didn't know the sequency of calendar months (actually: he had forgotten them), neither the multiplication table or simple arithmetics necessary for everyday shopping.
From the other side, Max is a talented artist, drawing well and loving graffti – perhaps it's in his genes as one of his great-grandfathers was an Art Director of the famous Odessa Movie Studio back in the USSR. And Max has really good eye on details, so he picks the photos I sometimes wouldn't notice – but they sell almost immediately.
To stay short, since last summer I have spent more than half of my time in Ukraine, helping out Max – with him helping me in searching for and buying photos in different towns, going to antiquarian fairs and doing small jobs like scanning, packaging and shipping.
Also, since November we enlisted Max to a private school (which costs almost half of the average income of local working person, as the average salary in Ukraine is about US$ 300 per month). As you can see from the blue report card, he has improved his knowledge and grades tenfold in few months.
For both of us, it has meant days and nights full of work and studies, and Max has done it very well. No sign of a „delinquent street kid“ he was last year (as commented by his mother just a month ago).
You can ask, how can things go so far in average family? The case is that in order to earn these US$ 300 per month, people who are lucky to have a job, don't have much energy or time for their kids, and for kids themselves, it's much easier to join one of the street gangs. Fun, joy and no worries.
Max has a dream. Actually – two of them, hoping to become either a renowned street artist OR renowned antiquarian dealer and/or art historian. OR both, because he is really good both in drawing good pictures and finding small quirky or funny details on old photos.
Due to Covid crisis, sales of old photos in our internet stores have go down by 80% last months. We have survived so far, but it's very questionable if I will be able to help Max with his private school fees and art/history studies in the future. But, apart from going back to street gang, it's the only other chance he has.
Apart from that, I have certain health condition, which may mean that I would not be able to be by his side until Max will be 18 (but I have promised this, or in case I can't do that, to find another solution to keep him on track to better future).
Max needs to finish the 9 th grade class in school year 2020/21, plus two more grades (high school), and then he would like to go to art school (or alternatively, to study art history in college). Not something typical for the kid who had difficulties in reading and writing a year ago (because he just didn't need it, so he had forgotten everything he had learned in elementary).
This campaign is to fund the school studies of Max (Maksim) for the next two years + his studies of English, art and art history, so he can prepare for his dream career of either an antiquarian or an artist . The life will show, but for this he needs a chance.
You can alternatively support us by buying photos in our stores:
if you save one soul you save mankind.
And this guy is really worth of helping hand – coming from this crazy background in most downhill town in Ukraine, he has remained really kind person, always giving his helping hand to others (even when he doesn't have much himself).
As a professional in this business, I can honestly say that Max is probably the youngest „almost-professional“ antiquarian in the world – and his dream is to travel, to find old lost treaures, and to return them to the world.
And, damn, he is talented – wben Max started to go to antiquarian fairs with me, I started to get better prices due to his negotiation skills – and to buy better photos, chosen by him. It would be a pity to lose this kind of artistic talent...
By the way, my doctor says, that being a photo antiquarian in 2020 sounds more like a diagnosis than a profession :) Let's hope that it will change by the time Maksim grows up and starts working in the field.
If you have any questions, you are most welcome to contact me.
Written on June-07, 2020, somewhere in Ukraine, during the Covid-19 quarantine.