A Photog Unearths The Differences Among Like Objects

Ordinary objects take on a new language in Diana Zlatanovski’s Typology series of photographs.

You may have collected coins, stamps, or baseball cards as a kid. If you’re Jay Leno, you’re fortunate enough to collect cars. If you’re Angelina Jolie, you hanker after Renaissance knives (at least during the Billy Bob era). Part of the thrill of tracking down trinkets are the stories behind them.


Those stories are the focus of anthropologist and photographer Diana Zlatanovski’s body of work. “Objects are wrapped in stories and meaning,” she tells Co.Design. “I can bring out a collection of objects that at first glance appear mostly identical. As you keep looking, the differentiations between objects become more and more evident.” It’s appropriate, then, that Zlatanovski has named her work The Typology. In the same way that different letters have nuanced variations in shape–and communicate a larger meaning when strung together–so do the collections in her photographs.

Zlatanovski first began photographing object collections when she stumbled upon a batch of rusty old wrenches at an antique mall. Since then, she has documented a collection of cigarette holders, blue mussel shells, and vintage pieces of paper, among other objects.

Memories are the refrain in each assortment. The cigarette holders hail from the private collection of a woman who inherited them from her mother. Zlatanovski gathered the blue mussel shells herself, during her first trip to Maine’s Acadia National Park.

The scraps of paper were shipping forms from 1889, for the now defunct Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad. Zlatanovski found them in a wooden box; they were being used to carefully wrap a collection of shells. “I’m left to wonder how these dozens of shells that were collected from a river in Tennessee ended up in scraps of shipping papers from a railroad that only operated between Michigan and Indiana,” she says.

Up next are iron eel spears and other collections from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

About the author

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