I have a photography project that I call “Storied Objects”—the subjects in it are old or vintage things showing lots of use. I’m always on the lookout at antique shops and garage sales for something that might fit the bill. The candidates are worn, grooved, stained, flaked, chipped, tarnished, faded, and often extremely dirty. A good one has such an air of mystery! Who used it? How did it get so much wear? What intriguing stories might it tell if it could talk?
Figuring out how to best photograph a Storied Object is a source of great fun. How can I show it off and emphasize its most interesting parts? The suitcase in the photo is a particularly worn example. It’s bowed in here and bowed out there. The sides are worn smooth in places and roughed up in others. The hinges and latches are tarnished and dirty. The paper luggage tag is dirty and yellowed, Half of it has been torn way—why any of it survived along with the suitcase is a mystery of its own.
I know that suitcase would have many stories to tell. The person who owned it was an artist named Joachim Probst, an artist who lived and painted in Greenwich Village, New York during the 1960s and 70s. At the time Probst was known as “The Madman of Greenwich Village”—he achieved some notoriety both for his art and for his eccentricities. The suitcase was found in the attic of his family home in Limerick, Maine after he died. It was filled with personal papers, photos, and gallery brochures. It was also accompanied by a diary that detailed much of his life. The diary is another great storied object that actually does some talking, but that’s a post for another day.