Burning Up

I came across this site today, and am oddly furious about it. The premise is that it asks people to consider what they would take from their house if it was on fire. And then said people are to elegantly photograph their choices. That’s my description. Here’s the one from the site:

If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It’s a conflict between what’s practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities. Think of it as an interview condensed into one question.

Not to be too schoolmarmish about this, but I’ve known people who have actually had their houses burn down. I’ve been with them as they’ve scoured through the remnants of their belongings and witnessed the heartbreaking scene as they realize some of their most dear possessions are gone. I’ve also witnessed the total relief on their faces as they realize how close they came to truly awful physical danger. And I’ve seen how hard it to reconcile those two disparate and fueding feelings: devestation and almost spiritual relief.

I’m quite sure they didn’t regret grabbing the coconut they broke open with their head. Or their favorite denim shirt. In the end, as sad as they were to lose their wedding photos and family antiques, they also realized that they had kept only things that mattered. Their freaking lives.

There is something so privileged about this site’s directive to quantify and describe one’s life in images of stuff.

I know, I’m not getting it and I’m being a total wet blanket.

But at a time when we seem to be hearing everyday about people losing their lives to horrific tornados, earthquakes, and other dastardly disasters, it’s hard for me to feel like this site is much more than permission for some hipsters to show off all of their most cool stuff in pretty photos.


4 thoughts on “Burning Up”

  1. Not to over simplify your arguments or reasoning, but how is this that different from a Daily Shoot?

  2. daily shoot doesn’t limit what you can photograph whereas this site requires you take pictures of an actual possession. this site does have potential but its not there yet. there is no personal touch to the pictures on the site, just a pile of someone’s accumulated commodities and gifts. but lets say you could only grab one thing, that would be so much better. one item, one person, one story instead of what it is now.

  3. Jerry — I can’t see any relationship between this and Daily Shoot. This *isn’t* just about taking pictures based on a prompt. The idea behind these pictures is that you are to distill your values down into a set of objects which, when your life is threatened, you would grab to keep. I would have no problem with a site that was about choosing a set of items that are most near and dear to you and illustrate who you are (although I’m not sure that “things” are always a great way to talk about what is most important to us). It’s the framing of this as a set of items that are somehow so meaningful that in a dire situation you would actually take the time (and potentially risk your life) to grab. I know that, in actuality, no one is going to run back into a burning building to grab a stupid coconut. But to even suggest that a coconut is so important that you would theoretically “save” it while your house is burning down around you just seems incredibly dumb and crass. I’m not sure I can imagine any prompt (even one about a single object as Tim suggests) that was based around such a situation that I wouldn’t find dumb. But, again, I might just be taking the whole thing to seriously. Maybe tomorrow I’ll look at it and think, what’s the big deal?

    Jim — Heh. At it’s core, I can see value to a prompt that asks people to identify collections as a way to tell a story about themselves (it’s what desert island discs is about, and I get that). Again, it’s the “Quick! Your House Is Burning Down! You’re Going to Die!” part of it that I hate.

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