Photographing Everyday Objects That Make Us Who We Are

They’re oft forgotten under the bed, nestled between some books on a shelf, or tucked away in a closet. A wooden box, a ring, a photograph — we all own those seemingly unremarkable objects that are, in fact, bursting with personal meaning. Revealing their story gives a glimpse into our past, shining a faint light into the depths of our soul.

That’s what Kristen Joy Watts and Ramsay de Give are doing with The Weight of Objects — a photography blog that features portraits of people side by side with ordinary, but prized, possessions. A founding member of the New York Times’ photo blog, Lens, Watts is the editor, and Ramsay’s the photographer — using a medium format “tank of a camera,” as he describes it, that was discontinued in 2004. (He is also colorblind.) We talked to the duo about light, color, and finding subjects in unexpected places.

How did The Weight of Objects come together?

Kristen Joy Watts: I wanted to match quiet portraits with a storytelling method that would reveal just a hint of each person portrayed. I thought that asking each subject to share the story of a treasured object would achieve that. And I knew that Ramsay would capture each object with the requisite awe and wonder.

What’s the significance of the blog’s name?

KJW: When I was trying to think of one, I thought “weight” nicely expressed the significance of a thing. I also saw one definition when I was googling that described it as “the force with which a body is attracted to Earth or another celestial body,” and I thought that was a great way to think of it: Diptychs that explore the attraction or the magnetism between someone and something.


What kind of camera do you use to shoot the portraits, and why?

Ramsay de Give: I use a Bronica SQ-A medium format camera — something like a cheaper Hasselblad. The images aren’t always perfect. Often they will have a technical flaw — whether grain, focus, or another aspect that shows up. But this is the reason I love it. I’ve embraced the curiosity of these occurrences. It works well with this project.

KJW: And, I’m amazed by the color combinations he manages to make, since he’s colorblind. It’s baffling. It’s magic.

I’d imagine, then, that light plays at important role in your shooting process.

RDG: I’ve been amazed at the power of light to literally pull me toward it. I gravitate uncontrollably. At times I’ll be walking down the street with a subject, observing the light, and stop dead in my tracks to have a peek, leaving them walking on a number of steps before they take note. One of those moments where it all just clicks and a real calm washes over.

How do you choose who to photograph?

KJW: We’re striving for an eclectic mix, and we find everyone we shoot. Some people we know, some are friends of friends. A few people I’ve found on the train. In January, I introduced myself to a fellow diner at The Dutch and asked her to be part of the project. She was tall and striking, wearing this bright red coat. She had this special light about her. The portrait we chose from Ramsay’s shots from that day was exactly as I’d pictured it, with her gorgeous skin and bold coat almost floating on top of the dark, wintery scene in Madison Square Park.

Sky Dylan-Robbins

"He brought this box with him from China to Taiwan when the Communists came in 1949, and then later to the U.S. with just a few belongings. When he came down with cancer, I was too absorbed in my new job and life in New York City to understand that even superheroes are mortal. I never took my grandfather around the world, so now I carry his box with me everywhere I go.”

Tricia Wang was photographed in New York City on July 28th. You can view her writing.

"Just over one year ago, I traded in my subway pass for Roxie, my pink Schwinn cruiser. She was given to me by my Dutch friend, Kirsten, who bought it off of a Brooklyn-based Haitian voodoo doctor whose colorblind son originally bought it thinking it was blue. One day I was riding through Brooklyn and a teenaged black boy yelled at me as I rode past, ‘Normally I would make fun of a dude riding a big pink bike, but your arms are so big, I don’t wanna mess with you.’"

Baratunde Thurston was photographed in New York City on June 27th. You can follow him on Twitter.

“I have a lot of secret things and collections, like potions and rocks and fortune tellers, and stuff like gallium which is a metal that melts. I chose this string because you can make so many things with it but if you looked at it, you would think, ‘oh that’s just a string.’ Sometimes in school I don’t talk, but I’m always thinking.”

Gabriel was photographed in New York City on March 2nd.

"When I was younger I would spend hours playing with my collection of toy Breyer Horses but when I grew up they all somehow got lost.  A few years ago I opened a birthday present from my older sister and inside were these vintage Breyer Horses. I was so touched I cried; she’s the only person in the world who would know how wistful I was about this missing souvenir of my childhood." 

Joanna Lily Wong was photographed in New York City on January 24th. View her site.

"One of the things that I’ve kept over the years is a book of classical Greek myths from my grade nine English class that was falling apart by the time I got it. The notes in its margins from past students who borrowed it - beginning in 1976 - seemed like they were just for me. I knew that if I stole it I couldn’t pass it on to the next student but I fell so much in love with it that I had to.”

Christian Lo was photographed in New York City on May 18th. You can follow her on Instagram.

“The moment I saw this ribbon on a goodie bag at a disco party, I decided it would be my lucky ribbon because it was white and satin and beautiful. Sometimes I use it to tie up my hair when I want to dress up a bit fancy for class. One time I took my lucky ribbon to school, and it brought me good luck because it made me have a fabulous day.”

Beatrice was photographed in Montclair, New Jersey, on January 5th.

"This leather jacket was my father’s and by some grace of God, it fit both of us perfectly. He wore it with aviators and ascots and I wear it with everything—dresses, jeans, nightgowns. A small hole above one pocket got stuck on a metal fence and completely ripped, but I just think of it as an extra pocket." 

Morgan Doff was photographed in New York City on August 5th. Here she is on Twitter

"My dad was an Armenian engineer and builder who worked with people of all walks of life in Iraq when it was a much more tolerant place. When he gathered with his friends for coffee or tea, or, in some of my earliest memories, held me in his lap, these prayer beads used to rest in his hands. Now, they connect me to that world and time that I once lived in.”

Nazar Melconian was photographed in Toronto on May 19th. You can view his work.

"When I found this vintage Schiaparelli hat - a fashion unicorn - at a vintage shop in the Marais in Paris, I was finishing college and had a lot of self-doubt. I took it as a sign from the universe to keep doing what I love. It doesn’t fit me so I place it around my apartment like a talisman."

Cara Araneta was photographed in New York City on May 7th. You can follow her on Instagram.

“I was obsessed with filming everything with this Super 8 for a while, partly because hiding behind the camera allowed me to go places I might not have been comfortable going, especially when I first moved to New York, and people always want to talk to you when you have a weird old camera. One day I abandoned it and moved on to something else, and I think I’ll wait at least five or ten years to develop the finished roll of film in there. Super 8 looks and feels like time that is so long past, and eventually when you look at it that will be the case.”

Sara Cwynar was photographed in New York City on May 26th. You can view her work

"When my grandmother moved out of her house on Long Island a few years ago I absorbed this wooden whale and brought it home. It was a part of a dense salon wall at her house when I was small but she never knew where it came from. She lives near an old whaling town, so I imagine it being made from the hull of the Pequod.”

Gabriel Fredericks Cohen was photographed in New York City on June 2nd. You can view his work.