Why do I take the photos I do? At one point, my photography was pure memorialization — concretization of having been there and done that. But as time passed, I began to see a certain strangeness in objects veiling themselves as ordinary: plastic bags dancing among tree branches or vent pipes nonsensically winding themselves around buildings.
The seven images that follow will explore the agency of supposedly inanimate objects, starting with personification and moving toward a literal belief in objects as agents in this world.
Photo 1: Multigrain Bread
A few mornings ago: a photo of my bread before putting it in the toaster. The deep dip at its top endeared it to me. It was in a mood: disgruntled and grumpy. “What’s wrong with today?” I wanted to ask. Nothing. After toasting, it tasted great with some jam.
Photo 2: Dirty Pile of Snow
A few weeks ago, a similarly sullen character: a pile of dirty snow no one wanted to look at. It had at this point outlived its utility for about a week — either as snowball fodder or as a hill for better vantage. It had turned sad and ugly and the value of real estate it was occupying in lower Manhattan was an outrage. While others walked by unconcerned, I paused on the street and took three or four shots. It was surprised, but didn’t object.
Photo 3: Television Set
This television set was another notably dejected figure. It looked as if it was tossed from a fourth-floor window. Having been an integral part of someone’s home for thirty years, it could hardly stand to face the other garbage in the shame of its debasement.
Photo 4: Security Mirror
In contrast to the TV, this convex mirror was riding high and mighty on a picket fence between the Michigan Softball stadium and the train tracks. It sat coolly on that fence it was never designed in consideration of. It had come here to watch me, but I couldn’t see it. It was the same one-way-gaze-exchange one experiences with a man in aviators. Despite my initial intimidation, I realized this one-way exchange only revealed some more fundamental fragility on the part of the mirror. I took a few photos of it, or rather of myself reflected in it, and moved along.
Photo 5: Armchair
During the first snowstorm of winter break, this chair seemed a hospitable host for a sizable pile of snow that had come to call it home. Although the chair was turned as if to show the world its newfound purpose, it had clearly undertaken this new duty without question. This benching of pride was admirable and hard to come by, meriting a few shots.
Photo 6: Shopping Cart
Sometimes, we really don’t want to talk to anybody. This shopping cart had found some recluse by the river after years of being pushed around. Tired, leaning on the fence, it now stared away from the popular view of the Queensboro Bridge and all interests but its own.
Photo 7: Photographs and Magazines
This collection of magazine excerpts, photographs and Zig Zag cigar wraps had convened quite miraculously under the shelter of a bus stop late one night. Earlier that day, the magazine excerpts had conspired to be cut out by an individual susceptible to advertisements from clothing companies committed to ethical production practices.
Stacking themselves into a shoebox one-by-one, they went to an office where photographs that adorned the desk of said individual joined them. The box of photos and excerpts then crossed an avenue on the way to a bus stop, where a few hours after severing ties with said individual, they radically transformed the space of the bus stop.
They invented a wholly new form of social interaction in New York City that didn’t require self-justification or down payment. Here, Zig Zag wraps could mingle freely with scented Armani ads, dirty tissues could dance with clean ones and those ads targeted toward the ethical consumer could berate passing SUVs and praise the irregular rhythm of the public bus.
When you consider that everyday objects might be agents in this world the same way we are, life becomes more vivid. Found objects usually suggest some strangeness on the part of the unknown individuals that used them and subsequently left them behind. But when you take these objects at face value, their very existence is a miracle.
It’s as if their arrival at the point at which I photograph them is just as deliberate as my own. That’s why I take the photos I do.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Vassar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.