As I near completion on this particular assignment I thought it would be useful to summarise some of the projects I found whilst researching how other practitioners have used lost items in their work.
The ‘lost objects’ trope is far from original. Cursory research will reveal dozens of photographers who have turned their lens onto lost or abandoned objects spotted in public. Some of them are very simple: what you see is what you get, without much by way of deeper layers of meaning or stated artistic intent. Search Instagram for ‘lost glove’ to see what I mean.
Others use the lost object as a metaphorical vehicle for an intended message or train of thought, and these are the projects that tend to hold my interest for longer.
By way of illustration not only of a particular conceptual approach but also of the unoriginality of lost gloves in particular: whilst developing my own project I drafted a book dummy and entered it into a regional photobook open call; it was selected for exhibition as part of a photobook fair alongside maybe 50-60 others.
In this relatively small batch I wasn’t the only person whose book was based on lost gloves! A chap called Alun Kirby, who lives maybe half an hour away, has already published a book called Glove Story (2015). Small world…
Kirby uses lost gloves (sometimes single, sometimes pairs, sometimes multiple) as a metaphorical thread in an imagined narrative about a relationship. The gloves seem to stand in for the human participants in the narrative, requiring the viewer’s imagination to substitute what they see on the page for what the story is really ‘about’.
Liam Frankland started a lost items project as an extension of an earlier ‘technical constraint’ project (my phrase, not his) of only taking pictures with a 50mm lens wide open, to isolate subjects. This constraint leads to a distinctive visual coherence to the set, even when the objects themselves are quite diverse.
I do like the phrase he uses to describe the images: “Each object is alone, lost in its own world of shallow focus.” (Frankland, date unknown), as it makes one empathise more with the object than its bereft former owner. This kind of anthropomorphic projection is different to the Kirby project, where the gloves are more like avatars for people than entities in their own right.
Yoonjin Lee’s Little Lost Project takes the anthropomorphic idea to its logical conclusion by giving voice to the lost items by way of little handwritten signs.
It’s a whimsical project, and I don’t intend that as a derogatory comment by any means – photographic art can be playful as well as though-provoking. In fact I wish more of it were.
Again on a reasonably light-hearted and anthropomorphic theme, a friend alerted me to an Instagram account called Single Glove Seeks Love.
The account pairs photos of lost gloves with vignettes that resemble dating website-style biographies, but really tell a capsule narrative.
In addition to these and similar ongoing projects, some artists have made self-contained artworks that use the lost objects trope at the service of a more symbolic and serious underlying message. The one that really stuck out to me was Tracey Emin’s public art commission Baby Things (2008) in Folkestone. For this Emin made and painted bronze replicas of baby clothes that had fallen or been thrown out of prams, and placed them around the town.
The photographs really don’t do them justice as they (of course) resemble the original item too closely – but I can imagine that finding and handling one in reality would be quite a disorienting experience.
The work was Emin’s response to Folkestone’s higher-than-average rate of teenage pregnancy, and so continues in the vein of much of Emin’s work investigating the complexities of female sexuality, especially in formative years. The casting in bronze is a powerful artistic touch: to me it implies the permanence of the consequence of the pregnancy. Even the title Baby Things I found interesting: does it just refer to the objects, or also to the teenage mothers?
What Emin’s work does that the more playful work does not is make the object carry more signification – she’s taken an existing trope and given it new layers of meaning. This is something that I really want to achieve with my own work.
This post is, as noted, a small sample of work based on lost objects, given as examples of ways in which the motif has been used rather than attempting to be definitive.
What I haven’t found yet is an example of the lost object being used as a metaphor for processes of memory. I’ll keep looking. It strikes me as odd that no-one else has made what I feel to be a very obvious connection.
Glove Story http://alunkirby.com/portfolio/glove-story/ (accessed 03/07/2018)
Liam Frankland liamfrankland.com/…/lost-and-found-photography (accessed 03/07/2018)
Little Lost Project littlelostproject.tumblr.com (accessed 03/07/2018)
Single Glove Seeks Love https://www.instagram.com/singlegloveseekslove (accessed 03/07/2018)
Baby Things http://www.folkestoneartworks.co.uk/artists/tracey-emin/ (accessed 03/07/2018)