Is Thrifting a Form of Voyeurism?

Having just seen the photography exhibit at the SFMOMA titled “EXPOSED:  Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera since 1870,” I have been pondering the question Is Thrifting a Form of Voyeurism?

Observing and sifting through the remnants of other people’s lives and their stuff, I am thinking that perhaps thrifting is a subtle form of voyeurism.  Not in any super secretive or elicit way, as items in a thrift store are usually found under bright flourescent lights, are sorted and tagged and merchandised to sell, but it is always a surprise to see what ends up lurking in a thrift store.  It is an on-going curiousity to uncover what items have been found to have outlived their personal usefulness and what has no longer held an attachment for some.  I’m sure that I’m not the only one who can’t help but wonder who the person was that donated that vintage dress or this interesting piece of art.  A few days ago, while out photographing a thrift store in the City, I came across four beige leaf-shaped serving plates that still had the remnants of whatever appetizers had last been served on them.  It caused me some pause – not only to think of the closest place I could wash my hands – but also to wonder whose party they were at, what canapes or cheese and crackers had adorned them, and why they didn’t wash them before donating them!

I sometimes feel a little voyeurstic working on this project.  Often, I feel like I have to quickly take a photo inside the store lest I be escorted out the door in violation of some store policy.  And, let’s face it – documenting thrift stores can also be a little depressing, at times.  I have been known to feel a little sad after viewing the unwanted leftovers in people’s lives.  It can be ugly and less-than-glamourous work.  But, there is a satisfaction in working on this work in progress, and I hope that you who have stumbled upon these pages are finding some slice of your own voyeuristic tendencies quelled. 

Please feel free to comment on anything that you would like to see in the coming year.  I continue to add new stores each week, and I have no idea when I will reach my goal of listing every single thrift store in the nine-county Bay Area, but you will certainly be the first to know!


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