Brendan Courtney spoke to artist Barbara Iweins about photographing all 12,795 of her possessions and turning it into a book and art project. Listen back above.
After moving house 11 times, getting a divorce and facing yet another relocation, photographer Barbara Iweins decided she needed to take stock.
So far so good - a clear-out of "stuff" before moving cities with three kids - sounds like a plan. But before deciding what to keep and what to give away, Barbara turned her artist's eye on herself and captured this massive life transition in the form of 12,795 individual photographs of every item in her household:
"My life was a bit unstable at the time and so I actually wanted to understand what it was to be a family of a mother and 3 children, you know, what it represented."
The project took four years to complete - but she stuck with it, leaving nothing out, and even entering every item on a massive spreadsheet:
"I didn’t just photograph them, I really analysed them, you know, in an Excel sheet by material; I classified them by material, by colour, by frequency of use. I’m not a sociologist, I’m not a specialist. I really wanted to do this work actually for myself."
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Brendan is a self-confessed 'cleanser', and says he has no problem throwing stuff out; but even he gasped as Barbara revealed just how tiny the number of objects was that she couldn't live without:
"The amazing part is that actually I realised that only 1% of my objects has a personal value. Only one. So if there is a fire in my house, I know exactly which object I should run for."
Barbara says the project began with a long hard look at her own behaviour as a consumer, a collector of objects of varying degrees of usefulness. But then she re-ignited her relationship with the things she treasured:
"In the beginning of the project I focussed only on consumption. But I also realised how much these objects were quite a protection for me. In this chaotic life, going back all the time to these objects was completely, how do you explain it, a sigh of consolation."
She discovered that objects are important, you just can't have a deep connection with 12,795 of them all at once. Barbara discovered the things she really valued weren't the most expensive. They were the ones that could not be replaced, because they were connected to precious memories and important people:
"It’s not the materialistic object that is important, but the souvenir link to it, the personal link to it. Even more, objects that are coming from my past that I could never find again.
On item that made the cut for the 1% list of irreplacable items was a stoneware cup that she doesn't particularly like the look of, but which represents the sibling rivalry she had with her brother and reminds her of her grandmother:
"I have been fighting with my brother for a very ugly cup of tea that was coming from my grandmother’s house in Spain. And it’s very funny because it doesn’t represent much, but it represents a whole period of our life that we cherish."
An extraordinary effort went into photographing and cataloging every single object, from Lego pieces to holey socks, from medicines to fish slices; and nothing was left out. But Barbara contends that her home and the objects in it are not extraordinary, and she feels that the collection will resonate with others:
"My house is very ordinary. There is nothing very particular in these 12,795 objects and I think everybody can relate."
Barbara thinks that we are missing a trick in selling ourselves as individual and interesting on social media. She says this masks the fact that most people have a similar relationship to objects and are surrounded by pretty mundane things. Curating the image of a perfect existence online is a form of instant gratification, she says:
"With social networks, we are always trying to represent this ideal life. We are taking pictures of our food, the beautiful food, of beautiful clothes, beautiful travels, in a way hoping to get likes."
In creating the book Katalog, Barbara wants to do the opposite to what people are doing on social media:
"I wanted to show not the ideal life, but the back of the life, you know, the socks with holes, you know like my medicines, you know, things that we hide normally. Because it’s part of our life; it’s not only the ideal."
Barbara Iwein's book Katalog is published by Delpire and her work can bee seen at the Cortona on the Move international photography festival, Tuscany, until 1st October. More info here.
For more great items and interviews, go to the Ryan Tubridy Show page here.