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The Things Our Things Say
How is it that inanimate objects are so often so eloquent? We know they are just things, but we love our things. I know I like to think of myself as too deep and unsuperficial to really care about material things, and yet, when my home almost burned down (I exaggerate slightly) I spent the remainder of the day wandering around in a daze, loving all those dumb things: the sticks my kids collect and the photograph of my grandmother holding baby-me, yes, but also, the rocking chair, the potted plants, the bathroom sink. Maybe those things aren't me, exactly, but those mute hunks of wood and plastic and stone are my life. And though I don't think of myself as having a lot of things, compared to the Chinese farmers photographed by Huang Qingjun my small home becomes a low-rent-version of the British Museum.
According to the BBC, Huang Qingjun has spent the past decade traveling around China's rural areas, photographing people outside their homes with all of their material possessions. (The BBC has a can't-miss slide show of his photographs.) The photographs are haunting portraits of the simple way people still live in the quickly-changing country. But they tell stories, too -- a story of forced change, in the case of a couple posing in front of their house which has been slated for demolition; a story of intentional change, in the case of families proudly displaying their modern DVD players and satellite dishes.
it's impossible to look at these photographs and not think, "That's IT?" I'd like to think I could live so simply as these families, possessing only what I needed to work and make food and little else, but it takes me about twelve seconds to start wondering, but what do they do in their free time? (The answer is, probably, what free time?) Where are the books and games and photographs and all those other things that we think make our homes our homes? And what would my life be, who would I be, in a yurt on the plain?
Read the entire article for more, including the the wonderful history of the "Four Big Things."
What Are Your Chairs Telling You?
The History of the World in 100 Objects
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