All my life I have collected pictures. I suppose we all do this in more or less conscious ways. I have collected mine mostly in secret, stocking the pond for my own purposes – engranger, as the French call it, to fill your barn. From these pictures I defined my dress sense, my dreams for a career, dreams of friends, of people to work with, a house, a home.

When I was very small I would flick through my mother’s copies of Vogue, the really thick ones they still made in America and France. I remember them being full of ladies in fur coats and so heavy I could not really lift them on my own. Later I was allowed to buy my own every now and then, the late eighties’ and very early nineties’ ones with all the supermodels, Marc Jacobs’s grunge collection in the year before I went to America, Joan Juliet Buck writing articles of substance and the guest-edited Christmas editions so full of good stuff you kept them as you would a good book.

My smart and stylish friend May had a huge pin board over her desk and my father made me a similar one for my own room. Twenty-eight years later I still have it, 82 x 112 cm and always painted the colour of the wall in the place where I happened to live. Last year I had to reattach a bit of the frame, but otherwise it is in mint condition. These days more often than not it is taken over by bits of text.

Because I have moved house a lot over the years I have also taken up the habit of making picture books so the barn becomes easier to carry. Sixteen years ago, in probably the smallest room I ever had, I made the first, spreading out years of collected images on every available surface and arranging them in ways that made sense to me. The years had caused a natural selection; what goes into the books has stood the test of time.

I cannot live without a pin board, the way I cannot live without a diary, and arranging images has become an important part of what I do for a living. Magazines no longer yield as much treasure and most of what I now collect is in folders on my computer. But I made a digital collage for a work project a couple of years ago, the cover of a brochure made for a film I fought long and hard to get off the ground.

I have put that project to sleep while I finish work on my new book with Pauline van Lynden, LIVING IRON, and return to two projects based on my experiences living in Shanghai in the early noughties, plus a children’s novel – all stacks of material gestated over a long period of time, so that hopefully the dross will fall away easily and what remains is like my picture files are to me: filled with the good and the true, and capable of making you dream.

Credits picture books:

Maya Sansa in Marco Tullio Giordana’s La Meglio Gioventù; Theresa Russell and Art Garfunkel in Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing; photographers pyramids and desert unknown.

Rinko Kikuchi and Ken’ichi Matsuyama in Trần Anh Hùng’s Noruwei No Mori; Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor (photographer unknown); ‘An American Girl in Italy’, photographed by Ruth Orkin; Catherine and Paloma Bailey by David Bailey; ‘The Daughter of the Dancers’ by Manuel Alvarez Bravo; Diane Keaton photographed by Michel Comte; Nederlands Dans Theater’s Reconsider by Daisy Komen Photography; Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet on the set of Les Petits Mouchoirs.

John Howard, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story; Meryl Streep in Silkwood; Deborah Kerr (AFP/Getty); film poster for Alain Cavalier’s Le Combat Dans l’Ile; Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura; Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Holiday; Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed by George Hoyningen-Huene; Lee Miller and Tanja Ramm in bed (photographer unknown).

Credits Ultima Thule collage:

Tanagra watercolours; illustration from Piero Ventura’s Marco Polo; Kenneth Branagh in Frank Pierson’s Conspiracy; Jeremy and Samuel Irons in Danny, the Champion of the World; the Villa Borghese; Marion Cotillard photographed by Patrick Swirc; trying to trace the rest!