‘Discarded’ Chronicles Furniture, Life
March 3, 2011 3 Comments
by Nadia Smith
Art isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most of us see unwanted furniture put out on the curb. At best, we might think, “That would look great in my living room.” One fall day when Professor Kurt Gohde saw a plaid couch perched on top of a classic television, however, he saw something more.
He mentioned to Dr. Kremena Todorova that he liked it visually and would like to take a photo of someone on it, but he didn’t know whom.
Sometime later, when driving to pick up her daughter from day care, Todorova saw what she described as “a yellow brocaded, really ornate easy chair in front of house we affectionately call in the neighborhood the ‘Hooligans’ House.’ ”
“I was really struck by this pretty, ornate chair in front of a house that I would never imagine having chairs like that,” said Todorova. “I thought about how there’s such a discrepancy between the people who live in the house and the furniture they used to have until they put (it) out on the curb. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t (it) be interesting to ask the people who own the furniture to come out and be photographed with it?’ ”
With that idea in mind the project got off to a slow start in January 2010. Todorova said it was hard to convince people to come out in below-freezing weather to take a picture on a snow-covered couch.
“At first Kurt and I were shy and they could probably tell,” Todorova said. “But as the project got going, by the summer I pretty much wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Both of us became really persistent. … We would say, ‘Hi, my name is Kremena and this is Kurt. We’re from Transylvania University and we’re working on a photography project, so, whenever we see a discarded couch or chair we stop and we try to find the owners, or if they’re not around, their neighbors or a passer-by. We ask them to sit on it and take their portrait. How would you like to come and sit on the couch?’ ”
If the owners couldn’t be convinced, their other strategy was to ask them which one of their neighbors would be “crazy enough” to do it.
Todorova said that as she and Gohde gained confidence, it was harder for people to say no and by the end people were willing to come out and have their portraits taken even in wintry weather.
Todorova’s students also helped out by texting the location of interesting pieces being thrown out. She invited some of them to sit on some of the unclaimed discarded couches.
Todorova told the story of one photograph that never came to be.
“Last summer I saw a couch in a dumpster on Upper Street,” Todorova said. “There was a man preparing to sell his house and he’d thrown (the couch) out. It didn’t look nasty. It was just with a whole bunch of really old furniture in the dumpster. So I asked him if he would sit on this couch. He said, ‘No way, I’m a professor. I’m not going to sit on my couch in the dumpster.’ ”
When the man refused she called on senior Ingrid Williams, who was working in town that summer.
“We met up at the couch at 10 in the next morning and we saw a truck taking the whole dumpster away. We were so disappointed,” said Todorova. “We lost that one.”
Most of the photos were taken within a four-mile radius of campus and along the routes of Gohde’s and Todorova’s commute. Now, as Todorova passes by those sites, she thinks of each of the people she photographed there.
One family, who had just put out a long orange couch belonging to a relative that had recently passed away, was reluctant to participate at first. During the shoot, as more and more family members started to stop by, the photo became a family portrait that they used in Christmas cards that year.
Through the project Gohde and Todorova were able to connect with people in the local community.
“Probably the best part about this project for Kurt and I was talking to so many people and feeling, for a short period of time, a part of their lives, and they became part of our lives,” said Todorova.
In the future, Gohde and Todorova hope to take the project to larger cities like Chicago or New Orleans and do it over a shorter period of time. Todorova hopes that “Discarded” will become more about comparing lives in different cities rather than the life of one city over a year.
“Discarded” is currently on display at the LOT (Land of Tomorrow) Gallery, which is within easy walking or driving distance of Transy. The gallery is an unmarked building just past the intersection of East Third and Race Streets. It’s open Monday-Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. or by appointment. The show will run through March 18.