Tag Archives: Contemporary Issues

Greg Ruffing

OK, I admit it.  Exploring Greg Ruffing’s project on Yard Sales had me drooling over certain objects featured at some on the sales, and my first thought was: Where are these sales, and how fast can I get there?  I mean, who doesn’t want a set of owl lamps with crushed velvet shades?  My reaction is exactly what Greg is thinking about when he creates his work–our culture of consumption and the desire to have what we don’t need.

Greg Ruffing is a Chicago-based artist working in photography and mixed
media and often explores themes of consumption and the economy. His
works have been exhibited at the Annenberg Space for Photography
in Los Angeles, the New York Photo Festival, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the
Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado, and elsewhere. In addition, his photographs
have appeared in publications such as TIME
Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Mother
Jones
, Smithsonian, The Atlantic Monthly, and others. Greg also runs an online
photography project titled Self-Guided Tour, a series of writings
about photography, art, and contemporary issues.

Greg has created a book on his Yard Sale work that has been included in the DIY: Photographers & Books exhibition that is currently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art until the end of 2012. The book is a precursor to a larger publication he hopes to publish in 2013.

My series Yard Sales is focused on the
complexities of consumption: the ubiquity and disposability of consumer goods
and their ever-shifting value and meaning. In a way, these photographs are an
attempt to document the cycle of our pursuits in accumulating “stuff” (and our
relationship to that “stuff”), in a way that reveals fundamental human habits
and behaviors and their link to socioeconomic circumstance.

I was first drawn to yard sales as a sort of grassroots marketplace defined by the seller’s curious efforts of display and advertising to attract shoppers, and the buyer’s hunt for prized items and bargain prices. I was also interested in how the yard sale, as an event, transforms the private domestic space of the seller’s residence into a public commercial space to facilitate purchasing goods.

I’m also intrigued by how yard sales illustrate a specific dyadic complex of consumerism: on the one hand, they speak to our somewhat insatiable compulsion to shop and hoard possessions, and perhaps a certain cognitive blurring of the distinction between needs and wants (related to the process by which consumers assess and impose value and meaning onto material items).

And yet, on the other hand, it seems that yard sales (and other forms of resale) serve as a crucial antidote to much of the disposability and wastefulness inherent in consumerism – sending unwanted objects into secondary cycles of consumption where they may find renewed value or purpose through subsequent buyers.

Furthermore, I’ve undertaken this project in the context of the American economic Recession that began in 2008. In those past four years photographing this project, I’ve met and talked to countless families who, in the aftermath of financial hardship nationwide, have sold off possessions just to help pay their bills. In addition, while photographing yard sales in southwest Florida (which has continually had some of the highest home foreclosure rates in the U.S.), I met people who were selling goods obtained from an underground network of scavengers who take discarded possessions from the littered front yards of foreclosed and evicted homes.

It would seem that the Recession has brought decades of unbridled consumer spending (especially its emphasis as an economic engine) into question. Some navel-gazers have even wondered if we actually shopped ourselves into the Recession by living beyond our means through cheap credit, and many have spoken of pursuing a more austere lifestyle. Its in this framework that I hope my Yard Sales project can contribute to a sincere dialogue on and modest reformulation of our relationship to the items we choose to buy.

Carson Sanders

Carson Sanders has had the good fortune be educated on two continents at the same school. He spent last year at Savannah College of Art and Design’s Hong Kong campus and is now back at the Savannah, GA campus working towards his BFA. Born in Dallas, Texas, Carson is an editor at aint-bad magazine, a quarterly art journal focusing on images that discuss human existence, culture, and contemporary issues. Carson is continuing to document the south and is about to take a road trip across the lower half of the U.S.

I am featuring two bodies of work he produced in China, Yuen Po Street Bird Marketand Happy Valley Racecourse.

Yuen Po Street Bird Market: The Yuen Po Street Bird Market located in Prince Edward is a place that I grew accustomed to during the ten weeks that I spent in Hong Kong in the Fall of 2011. Witnessing the love that these men and women have for their birds is something that I never thought I would come across while studying abroad. For me, this body of work transcribes the beauty that can often go un-noticed when passing through the heavily congested market.

One must stop and watch, as these men do each day, to understand why these creatures mean so much to this culture as a whole. Men spend hours staring past the bars of the cages and into the souls of these birds; as if they are trying to understand exactly what it is that these little creatures are doing here on this planet. This question may go unanswered for hundreds of years, but the men will keep staring, day after day.

Happy Valley Racecourse is located in Wan Chai, Hong Kong and is completely surrounded by skyscrapers. Standing inside the complex is surreal as you look in each direction and see tall buildings all around with a clearing in the middle for a grass track. Men and women flock to the horse races that take place on Wednesdays and Sundays. For some, this is the only excitement that they will have all week. For others, it’s a chance to finally make it big on a winning ticket. Regardless of why; they come. And they come each night, each week, and sit in the stands, or in the indoor sections, watching small televisions mounted on walls. They are all watching to see if the horse that they chose will make them a winner.

As the horses round the final corner, the noise is almost too much to handle. Screaming and shouting at a television set that has no control over the outcome of the race is common practice at Happy Valley. The winners are known immediately and can be heard from almost anywhere in the stadium. Their eyes fill with tears of joy as they proceed to the counter to collect their winnings. The losers can be heard as well, but it’s a different sound. They are not shouting with joy but rather cursing with anger. And while walking to the counter, they aren’t smiling, but rather fidgeting for coins and other money that can be spent on another race, another chance to have a better tomorrow.

Aint Bad Magazine

Aint-Bad Magazine, is a quarterly art journal focusing on images that discuss human existence, culture, and contemporary issues and they have a call for their new issue. To submit your work, go here.

Editors Taylor Curry, James Jackman, Caroline McElhinny, Caitie Moore and Carson Sanders, who have featured over thirty photographers and projects, have created this manifesto:

Photography is our best tool for documentation. Images have the power to influence us today and inform us tomorrow.

A photograph is literally a record of time and light. Besides visual data, there is implied information: who we are, where we are from, and what we think. All of this is encrypted in our visual language.

It is important for us, as visual communicators, to spend as much time as we can exploring, discovering, and documenting.

The photographs that we make today will live forever. We are historians.

Contact us at: [email protected]