After going through a divorce and moving on for the 11th time, Barbara Iweins has decided to take stock of her life — and all that’s in it.
Going from room to room, she spent nearly five years documenting every item she owns, from loose Lego bricks and old key fobs to remote controls, kitchen utensils and miscellaneous knick-knacks.
The resulting 12,795 images offer an intimate, unfiltered portrait of the Belgian photographer. His approach to warts and everything – a vibrator and a dental cast of his teeth are among the many personal items in the inventory – is almost the antithesis of today’s social media, where users closely select what they reveal to the world.
Among her most unexpected discoveries was the abundance of metal combs used to extract lice from the hair of her three children. “It’s something we lose all the time, and I found out I had six or seven of those things,” she said. “I was surprised by all the things that I was constantly losing and repurchasing.”
An example of the many articles that appear in the “Catalog” of Barbara Iweins. Credit: Barbara Iwein
The project prompted the photographer to reflect on her own materialism – and the consumerism of society in general. She estimates that 121,046 euros (about $124,000) was spent on all the contents of her home, although her inventory revealed that only 1% of items had sentimental value. Yet she retains what she calls a “connection” with her thousands of possessions.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “And I completely understand, because my friends are mostly travelers and they really look at me with a bit of pity, but having (a connection with my business) reassures me.”
And although self-proclaimed “neurotic collector”, the photographer does not consider herself an hoarder. “I give a lot, I don’t buy too much – I think I’m an ordinary person,” she said.
“I know it’s a lot,” she added. “But I thought it would be more.”
An act of “self-preservation”
And though often mundane in isolation, the individual images contain the stories of her life: the salacious novel she took from her father’s library when she was 16, the hospital bracelet she wore during childbirth or the anti-anxiety medications she started taking in her early 40s.
Over the years, Iweins has dedicated an average of 15 hours per week to the project. Bringing order to chaos became a kind of “therapy” that helped her overcome not only her divorce but the subsequent death of her boyfriend.
“When I started, I really believed I was exhausted from moving and moving my stuff,” she said. “And then I realized it wasn’t about that at all. It was more of an act of self-preservation — that doing something (for the show) every day was really about organizing my life. in my head. It was a positive process.
“Now that the project is finished and I have identified the objects that have value, I can start living,” she added. “Everything was there for a reason, I guess.”