kristen joy watts

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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.

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“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.
The Insider: Kristen Joy Watts

Let us tell you what: We seriously double-tap Kristen Joy Watts. As an art-and-fashion-savvy member of Instagram’s community team, she’s in charge of discovering new talent, creating cool new content, and brainstorming fresh ways to collaborate with the likes of Vogue (see: #metgala) and the Frieze Art Fair New York (see: #emptyfrieze). Obviously, we wanted—needed!—to know more, so we asked Kristen to get real with us. mattie kahn

Q: Spill: What’s your favorite Instagram filter?
A: The city usually inspires the filter. I’ll probably use Hudson at about half strength, for example, when I’m in Vancouver next weekend—a bit of blue for a rainy place.

Q: What makes a good Intagram, do you think? 
A: We often feature tips from the community on the Instagram blog, and that’s a great place to start. I think great photographs have to be beautiful—but they also have to have what Roland Barthes called punctum: a photograph’s personally touching, even wounding, quality. Maybe it’s a hair askew or a slightly crooked horizon line—imperfections that haunt you.

Q: What’s your favorite landmark in NYC? 
A: Does Momofuku count?

Q: Where do you head for the best slice of pizza in New York City? 
A: On one of Scott’s Pizza Tours.

Q: Which Of a Kind designers do you have your eye on right now? 
A: I’m looking at the Chen and Kai (@ChenandKai) planters in my kitchen. 

Q: What’s the last viral video that made you cry-laugh?
A: This got me.

Q: Any guilty pleasures you’re willing to admit to? 
A: I think a lot of people would say that they like Boyz II Men, but not a lot of people still listen to “4 Seasons of Loneliness” about once a week. 

There are more completely amazing people to be found right here!

“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.

Cannon and I are proposing a panel for SxSW called Making Timeless Brands Timely. 

After meeting at SxSW two years ago, we’re super excited about the possibility of collaborating on a talk. Here are a few reasons why:

We’ve both spoken twice at SxSW and loved it. Cannon, on the new taste graph, in 2011, and on listening and leveraging, in 2012; and me, on photo-madness and Instagram, in 2011, and on sustainable storytelling, in 2012, (which included some really fun infographics). 

We became friends initially because we were passionate about each other’s work. I was thrilled to meet Cannon at my panel in 2011 because on many occasions I had shown her work at Bergdorf Goodman to R/GA’s clients for inspiration. 

We have unique yet complementary perspectives on the challenges faced by what we’re calling “Timeless Brands,” or brands rich in heritage. Cannon is on the front lines and behind the scenes at one of the most storied retail brands in the world. R/GA’s clients include several with rich, complex histories who are bravely exploring social storytelling.

We’ve successfully convinced several colleagues who will have unique insights on this topic to contribute video interviews. These will add depth to the conversation and variety to the talk.

Fingers crossed! xxkj

cohort Kristen Joy Watts for NYT Lens

via NYT Lens - More of the Same — but Different

The hill in question — in Lincoln Park in Chicago, overlooking Lake Michigan — is not very big, and didn’t occur naturally. It was born in the 1940s, when a pile of dirt was moved to make room for a tunnel.

When Mr. Octavious first saw the hill, not too far from where he lives in the city, he felt an immediate connection. “When I was little in class and I drew a hill,” he said, “I would draw that shape. That’s the hill in my head.”

“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.

“The Kuchi are tribes of people who are dispersed across Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and have lived nomadically for centuries. I bought this vintage Kuchi tribal necklace from a souq in Dubai around six years ago, and I don’t know how old it is, or where it’s been, but I hope to continue its journey to places far and wide. First stop: South America.”

Nina Trojanovic was photographed in New York City on August 30th. You can visit the gallery where she works, Traffic.