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I Hate to Part With It: Craigslist Farewells
book (78 pp.)
2012
view or order the book here

Such juxtapositions of past and present undercut the contemporary phantasmagoria, bringing to consciousness the rapid half-life of the utopian element in commodities and the relentless reptition of their form of betrayal: the same promise, the same disappointment.
-Susan Buck Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project

The objects collected here are orphaned, or about to be. To find them, I searched “I hate to part with it”, “I hate to sell it”, “I hate to see it go”, etc. in various cities on Craigslist. The accompanying text is whatever immediately followed this phrase – the owner’s reasons for saying goodbye. Sometimes the reason is self-evident, at least to them: “because I have to.” Other times a story accidentally enters the ad: the person got cancer and had to pay the bills. The person got divorced. The person is having a baby and needs to make room.

These photographs exist in a strange space. Here, the very act of photographing is a farewell. The person took the photo in order to be rid of the thing, capturing it in photo form only to (hopefully) never see it again.

It’s common to see objects – especially the ones we don’t have yet – as symbolic regarding the state of our lives. This symbolism is fairly transparent. If I buy a new desk, I will be more productive, I will go back to school, I will finish my book. If I buy an exciting car, I will cease to be boring and will drive it to exciting places. If I buy an elliptical machine, I will be more fit. I will feel differently about myself. Whatever the object, the story always ends in: I will be a better or happier person.

But the objects in this book are evidence of the other side of this process. These have a different symbolism. Sometimes it is transcendence: if I sell my motorcycle, I am an adult and have left that phase of my life behind me. If I sell my electric guitar, I have accepted certain economic realities like a sensible person. Many of the sellers cite a new stage of their lives, describing it as something universal and necessary: “but we all must move on sometime.” The impulse behind this is strikingly similar to the one with which we acquire objects in the first place: if I just do this, if I just get things into place like I want them, I will finally be the person I want to be. The only difference is that this time the object is the fallout of the impulse, rather than the thing that focuses it.

Often times the reasons are financial, involving a dire economy or a turn of bad luck. Then the objects become material and concrete markers of loss. They may still be loved, but take on a different meaning as dead weight, or urgently needed money trapped in a useless (if beloved) form. Again the object is emptied of its original symbolism.

It’s for this reason that the photos collected here contain a certain surplus meaning. In each photo one can see two different things: the inspirational object and all its attendant meanings (which the owner/writer tries to reanimate for the buyer so that it will be bought), and the mundane, emptied-out object it has become (the reason for its being sold). At once, we see its original symbolism alongside its pure object-ness as a physical thing with flat financial value, taking up a now-intolerable amount of space in a garage.

This kind of stereoscopic vision illuminates the symbolic process at work in all of our objects. To see the object filled, emptied, and held out to be filled again by someone else makes clear the ways in which we invest these solid shapes, machines, and animals with meanings that existed long before we acquired them. For an instant, the de facto emptiness and arbitrariness of all objects becomes apparent. And just as we invest meaning in them, we divest it from them as well. They are physical things caught up in, and later flung from, the cyclonic economy of human meaning.

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