After divorce and moving home for the eleventh time, Barbara Ewens decides to take stock of her life — and everything in it.
Moving from room to room, she spent nearly five years documenting everything she owned, from loose Lego parts and old key chains to remote controls, kitchen utensils, and assorted crackers.
The resulting 12,795 photos provide an intimate, unfiltered portrait of the Belgian photographer. Its wart-based approach — her vibrator and rotten teeth among the many personal items in stock — is the antithesis of today’s social media, where users keep a close eye on what they reveal to the world.
Among the most unexpected discoveries were the abundance of metal combs used to extract the headdress from the hair of her three children. “It’s something we lose all the time,” she said, “and I found I had six or seven of these things.” “I was surprised by all the things I was missing out on all the time and repurchased.”
An example of several items appearing in Barbara Ewens’ “Catalogue”. attributed to him: Barbara Ewens
The project prompted the photographer to think about her materialism – and society’s consumerism in general. She estimated that €121,046 (about $124,000) was spent on the entire contents of her home, even though her inventory revealed that only 1% of things had sentimental value. Yet it retains what it calls “links” to its thousands of properties.
“It’s a little sad,” she said. “And I totally understand, because my friends are mostly travellers and they look at me with some pity – but having[a relationship with my stuff]reassures me.”
And although the photographer considers himself a “nervous collector”, he does not consider himself a hoarder. “I give a lot, I don’t buy excessively – I think I’m a normal person,” she said.
“I know that’s a lot,” she added. “But I thought it would be more.”
While often mundane in solitude, the singles contain the stories of her life: the gritty novel she took from her father’s library when she was 16, the hospital bracelet she wore at birth or the anti-anxiety medication she started taking in her early forties.
Over the years, Iweins has devoted an average of 15 hours per week to the project. Organizing the chaos became a kind of “therapy” that helped her overcome not only her divorce but also the subsequent death of her boyfriend.
“When I started, I really thought I was tired of moving home and moving my things,” she said. “Then I realized it wasn’t about that at all. It was more like an act of self-preservation – that doing something (for the series) every day was really about getting my life organized in my head. It was a positive process.”
“Now that the project is over, and I’ve identified things of value, I can start living,” she added. “It was all there for a reason, I think.”