Archive for photography

Wholesome consumerism

Posted in Observations with tags , on August 16, 2008 by James Osborn


People aren’t buying much at the moment.  All the shops have sales on in a last chance bid to entice the indebted, who gaze longingly at the window displays.  Newspaper supplements are filled with features on self-sufficiency and going ‘off-grid’.  I’ve started making my own sandwiches.  Credit crunch cuisine.  I don’t know if it’s because I have less money than this time last year – if I do it’s because I’m drinking too much overpriced beer – but I like to join in with the collective sense of penniless foreboding.


Hans Aarsman has dived in head first by deciding to detail his credit crunch cut-backs in an exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery, near Leicester Square.  Photography against consumerism is split in to two sections, one which captures in photograph several sentimental items owned but ‘got rid of’, and another which depicts items which the artist desired but did not purchase. 


On the basic level this is, as the photographer admits, an experiment in space saving –why let your grandmother’s figurine clutter up your house when it can exist quite easily in one-dimensional form on a memory stick.  This theory is less easily applied, however, to the exhibition’s second section; why bother to buy an espresso maker when you can make do with a picture of one in your kitchen instead.  Certainly space-saving, but he’ll soon get bored of water.  Perhaps he’s sold his taps too and is living off rain.


If this is, as the title suggests, an exhibition about (or against) consumerism, then it is problematic.  I can drink instant coffee, but I had no idea that in order to fight the capitalists I also had to throw out my dead grandfather’s binoculars. 


Aarsman did not include his camera in the exhibition, not even along with a guilty explanation about why he needed to keep it once he had finished creating the exhibition.  That would’ve been the ultimate; before putting it in the skip he would’ve had to take a photo of its sad face with a disposable.  Presumably he sees it as an extension of his own body, like a dog that paints with its paw.  But most likely it is because he, like many other people are not quite sure where the camera sits on the scale of relative frivolousness. 


Cameras are, to almost all of us, entirely nonessential.  But how many nonessential items can you think of that, say, a lawyer, a left-winger and your aunt would agree on as being a worthwhile purchase?  The camera is one of the few wholesome indulgences that even hippies can get away with, and disclosing one as a recent purchase receives a nod of approval from almost everyone, regardless of age or life outlook.


I’m sure that, as winter sets in, Mr Aarsman will wake up, a camera his only possession in the whole world, freezing cold and naked in a bin, down the road from where he last saw his parents as he ushered them into a disused garage, a rusty key clenched in his left fist, and wonder whether it was really all worth it just for a bit of space at the Photographer’s Gallery.  Anti-consumerism is a bit like drugs.  Fun for a bit, but when you see someone get really messed up it kind of puts you off.


I think I’ll start buying my sandwiches again.