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In 2006, Justin R. Saunders was living aimlessly. He was in his early 20s, working part-time as a security guard and an art teacher, skateboarding and writing graffiti in his off time. He did not yet know what he would do with his life. As a hobby, he started collecting images he found online, things he liked or found amusing or wished he could afford—classic cars, rare sneakers, “Calvin and Hobbes” comics, brutalist architecture. He was as interested in the style of the ’60s and ’70s as he was in the frequencies of modern fashion and streetwear. Adult life was looming, but he hadn’t yet let go of the things that defined his youth, and this new pastime gave him a way to arrange his feelings into a visual compendium. It was a little like the mood boards designers create to arrange their references for a new collection. Except Saunders was not yet the influential designer he is today. He was simply creating a mood board for the life he wanted to live.
Saunders’s sensibilities had been informed by an unusually worldly childhood. Born in Montreal, he spent much of his youth in Germany, where his mother, a first-grade teacher, got a job teaching French. His family spent summers driving across Europe, camping out of their minivan. He saw the entire continent, the museums and the farmlands. It was a crucial experience for the development of his eye. But he was also a teenager, increasingly obsessed with Bart Simpson and Michael Jordan and Foot Locker. These two worlds—highbrow Europe and lowbrow America—clashed spectacularly in his mind. Just before he entered high school, his family returned to Montreal, his mother having recognized that her son, who was a little socially awkward, would likely be better off back home. He fell for skateboarding and graffiti. He silk-screened T-shirts. He attempted college but decided it wasn’t for him and dropped out after two years. In his website, finally, he found a purpose.
For the name of his blog, he started with the word found—he found the images across the internet—then replaced the F with his first initial and arbitrarily quadrupled it: JJJJound, a series of images FFFFound by Justin. Saunders chose to present this library of JPEGs without any text, in one vertical scroll, arranged by color. This was long before Instagram and Pinterest, back when the internet was still primarily text-based, and it felt a little radical. Soon Saunders was filling entire folders on his desktop with images, letting their pixels wash over him. A sensibility emerged. A certain level of taste crystallized.
More and more people began to follow his blog, which Saunders would update frequently but at random intervals, always leaving fans eagerly anticipating the next image dump. New batches suddenly appeared, creating frenzies not unlike those surrounding a limited edition sneaker drop. Followers checked the blog constantly in hopes of finding the latest images that were, to use a term Kanye West, now Ye, would soon coin, “JJJJound-approved.”
JJJJound was not the place you went to learn about, say, the history of a Le Corbusier lounge chair or the movement of a Rolex Submariner; it was, rather, the place you went to learn that the lounger and the Submariner were the things you should know to want. In fact, JJJJound offered no expertise on anything. The project was simply one person’s attempt at defining a universal version of good taste, a kind of a running manifesto. The direct explanation for what he was actually up to is a one-line description provided by Google: “A digital mood board intended to examine the recurring patterns in timeless design.”