• 04.29.13

Beautifully Disarming Photographs of Dollar Store Junk

One man’s clutter is a photographer’s muse: Antonia Basler takes strange and lovely portraits of everyday objects.

Consumer products and the arts are hardly strangers. Andy Warhol, godfather of the métier, famously put grocery store goods to work. Later, the early-1990s New York collective Art Club 2000 used Gap shopping bags to poke fun at retail culture. Photographer and recent Parsons graduate Antonia Basler’s approach is less political, and perhaps a little more subtle: “I would spend time in the Dollar Stores and be equally repulsed and attracted to the stuff there,” Basler tells Co.Design. “I wanted to shoot them away from their environment, in a more clean setting.”


Despite the ubiquity of little throwaway things like plastic cutlery or toothpaste, there’s a whole school of thought dedicated to the meaning of everyday ephemera. Basler tapped books such as The Everyday, which surveys artists like Marcel Duchamp, Yoko Ono, and–of course–Warhol, and studied video work from Martha Rosler, whose 1975 [i]Semiotics in the Kitchen[/i] is a feminist critique of basic kitchen appliances. But the spark for this project came from French philosopher Henri Lefebvre:

“…nothing could be more superficial: it is banality, triviality, repetitiveness. And in yet another sense nothing could be more profound. It is existence and the ‘lived’ revealed as they are before speculative thought has transcribed them.”

Basler’s work doesn’t glorify or criticize the dollar store junk: “I didn’t want to seem like I was depreciating them. It’s more that these weird things exist in the detritus of our shopping world.” When taken out of context from the plastic chaos of discount shopping bins, the products are surprisingly beautiful–like bright blue toothpaste spilling out of the tube in waves, or sardines curled up in glittering little pods. Like still life artist Laura Letinksy (a major source of inspiration for Basler), the portraits cast a lovely light on the trivial, ‘lived,’ nature of everyday objects.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.