Wednesday, 9 June 2010


"FRANÇOIS ROBERT was 13 when his mother caught him searching her friend’s purse for pocket money. She had never been one to scold. Instead, she gave him a more introspective way to consider what he was doing:

“A woman’s purse is more private than her naked body.”

Those words inspired Mr. Robert, now 63, in the creation of “Contents”: a collection of photographs documenting the possessions tucked inside 120 individuals’ backpacks, pants and jacket pockets, or purses.

The items in each image offer a voyeuristic glimpse into the intimate details of other people’s day-to-day lives. The subjects’ hands are shown beside their belongings, providing an immediate comparison — or contrast — between the objects and their owners.

The participants were construction workers, C.E.O.’s, designers, doctors, girlfriends, and children, ranging in age from 4 to 75.

To get the most unadulterated look at each person’s belongings, Mr. Robert never told anyone in advance what he would be photographing.Some were friends and acquaintances, whom he invited over for a chat or a weekend brunch. Others, he simply found at random around Tucson, where Mr. Robert spends winter and spring; and Chicago and Michiana Shores, Ind., where he spends summer and autumn. (He all but dragged a taxi driver into his studio, telling him to leave the meter running.) In each case, he requested participation in what he described as a fine art project.

Only when the subjects were inside the studio would he reveal the nature of his portraits.

“I’m going to empty your entire bag,” Mr. Robert would say. “If there’s anything you don’t want to show, please let me know. You will be allowed to edit the photo.”

But very few people chose to edit their lives, and only one refused to participate.

Bottles of aspirin, bunches of vegetables, contraceptives and gobs of jewelry practically invite you to write your own stories. (Though how does one explain 21 packets of Sweet’N Low?) You can see what people are attached to, whom they cherish or whom they’ve lost. In “Eulogy” (Slide 13), a man flying to his father’s funeral laid out his entire speech for the ceremony.

“I would not have opened my life in that way to anybody else,” said Jennifer Rothman Teufel, 43, whose canvas satchel was upturned for “Alta Forma” (Slide 9). After seeing her life laid-out piece by piece, she said she felt vulnerable. At first, she wanted to take things out of it. But she was also astounded by how powerful the experience was, saying that Mr. Robert “was able to, in such an abbreviated manner, catch somebody’s entire life in that moment.”

“Contents” recalls “What’s in Your Bag?” by Jason Travis and “In Your Bag” by InStyle. But it evolved from a project Mr. Robert began in 1978.

Mr. Robert has worked commercially for clients like Crate and Barrel, and has published three books. His “Stop the Violence” project was a finalist for a Lucie award last year. He is now photographing the ears of 160 people. He asks his subjects — including the composer Philip Glass — to recall the best and worst thing their ears have heard.
His work makes us consider our own experiences in a new way. Perhaps that’s why one of the most intriguing photos in “Contents” shows a small hand with turquoise nails next to an empty canvas. It seems to signify that the greatest way to express individuality is to carry nothing at all."



1 comment:

La Bonne Vivante said...

This is a very cool idea, and I love the way he displayed the contents; like a dissection exhibit or a pinned butterfly.

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