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  • 09.10.13

An Online Project Collects The Stories Behind Favorite Heirlooms

Everyone has at least one handed-down item that seems more alive than the rest. A British photographer wants to tell its tale.

Genie lamps, ancient tomes, swords in stones: Classic tales reveal that certain objects possess magical powers, absorbed through generations of inheritance. With today’s relentless pressure to just buy more and more, it’s easy to forget the power of our own belongings. We’re all hoarders on some level. But most of us have at least one heirloom with a rich history, an item that seems more alive than the rest.

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British photographer Joakim Blockstrom wants to hear these particular stories and to document your favorite heirlooms. Blockstrom founded The Heirloom Project, an online bank of images of passed-down objects along with their histories. The intent is to start a discussion about the meaning of inheritance and its relationship to our identities and what we value.


“It used to be that you’d inherit a chest of drawers from an ancestor. But now, with Ikea taking over the world, that happens less and less,” Blockstrom tells Co.Design. “Mass production has benefits, but poor design can lower the value of an individual object, since you know 200,000 people have the exact same thing.”

Stories in the collection range from the handed-down treasure, like a pair of 1960s silver cufflinks, to the handed-down trauma–one woman asked Blockstrom to photograph her naked body, post-mastectomy, to feature the breast cancer she’d inherited from her mother. Highlights include a stuffed baby crocodile, supposedly found on the banks of the Nile in 1904; an Australian paperweight shaped like a sleeping wombat; an old architect’s brush; and a bald ebony doll named Cassie.


“I first tried photographing the pieces in dramatic lighting to give them a more theatrical presence,” says Blockstrom, “but quickly became convinced that the best way to present them was in their simplest form, against a white background, allowing them to speak for themselves.”

He has plans to develop The Heirloom Project into a book, as well as a gallery exhibition that would include photos, original objects, and stories.

How to submit your heirlooms: No object is too large or small. Did you inherit an old cigar box? The One Ring to rule them all? A scrap of your grandmother’s skin, peeled from a sunburn, pressed between the pages of an Edna St. Vincent Millay book? Blockstrom would like to photograph your treasure, either where it’s kept or at his studio. All you have to do is send him a description and explain how it links your past to your present–what makes it a part of you. E-mail contribute@theheirloomproject.co.uk.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.

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