An urban legend describes Hemingway writing a six-word novel on a napkin, on a bet at the Algonquin: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Fiction in the age of Twitter could surely cite this terse apocrypha as a forerunner of the minimalist narratives that have since swept through smartphone culture. Paris-based portrait photographer Thierry Bouët (pronounced Boo ETT) takes it a big step further. Rummaging through for-sale ads posted on Le Bon Coin, the French equivalent of Craigslist, he found tiny tales of unfulfilled desire, dissipated affection, vanishing resolve, and shifting priorities. In many instances, the sellers were not so much interested in recouping investment as they were in finding someone to love what they had loved, or at least make legitimate use thereof. The objects had become, says Bouët, extensions and expressions of the sellers’ lives.
Starting with Object Zero, a chaise longue no longer of use to a woman whose life was too harried to lounge in it, Bouët staged scenes in which sellers would elliptically appear, often only in part. In these wry vignettes of the sharing economy, one gets a sense of the sentimental connections we all have with the objects that own us. The series is as much about eccentricity as it is about the detritus of our culture’s rampant materialism. Bouët’s work also makes light of how identities become locked in the inanimate as we transfer our character “fingerprints” onto our possessions. His pictures contain stories within stories: the situation that ended in the decision to sell an object, the encounter between seller and photographer, and the viewer’s imagined scenario prior to reading the revelatory texts that accompany the images.
The more freighted objets trouvés reveal Bouët’s quest for the right mix of poignant and whimsical: A rare seven-string guitar that an aging rock music fan could not convince his teenage daughter to become interested in; the custom wigs of a retired Michael Jackson impersonator (doused with Jackson’s favorite cologne); an aquarium full of taxidermied exotic fish, a gift to a now-deceased father who liked to fish; 100 dog show trophies, minus the one that holds the prized spaniel’s ashes; a custom coffin made for a dying grandmother who decided at the last minute to be cremated; a 12th-century castle equipped with a fireman’s pole installed by a previous owner-architect who craved one as a child; a 1944 American army truck; a cat replaced by a dog; a heap of neckties amassed from a brother who works at Cardin, because the seller has changed to a more liberated lifestyle; a “magic cauldron” (filled with water, the magician’s assistant emerges bone-dry) sacrificed to finance a new revue; Maurice Chevalier’s overcoat; custom high heels covered in scenes from Marvel and DC comic books, worn for a superhero-themed party; a florid female Oktoberfest costume; a yacht someone tried to turn into a floating hotel in Deauville; a Jaguar that supposedly once belonged to the British royal family; an avid deep-sea diver’s complete outfit and gear, since the diver’s health no longer permitted deep dives; a grandmother’s wedding dress deemed too old-fashioned by her granddaughter; a rare stud ram (“excellent specimen, respectful to humans”) sold to avoid over-intermarriage in his flock; a Parisian beauty salon complete with hammam; a skeleton named Stan sold by an osteopath who fears it is scaring her patients.
Thierry Bouët, Affaires Privées/Private Business (Editions Xavier Barral)
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