BAG explores the duality between the way people characterize themselves in public and the
private contents of their handbags. This is depicted by a photograph of the subject against a
neutral background, in their everyday clothes, with their bag, purse, briefcase or any other
container they carry on a daily basis. The portrait of their public face is juxtaposed with the
person’s more private self, represented by the actual contents of their bag that the person
arranges as they wish them to be seen. BAG allows the viewer a glimpse into the private
world of another individual, revealing aspects of this person’s organizational habits, vanities,
occupations and preoccupations. This is a personal and voyeuristic look at the possessions a
person carries in their bag, which has been gifted to the viewer by the subject as a willing
It is the tension between the person and what they are attached to that constitutes the main
point of interest in BAG. What do people choose to hold onto? What are the materials they feel
they need to carry around with them? What is the correlation between how the subjects
choose to portray themselves in the world, and the story that is conveyed to us by their
intimate objects? Furthermore, what is the story of the objects themselves? Some are
sentimental, materially valuable, some are part of a current of shared objects that pass
unwittingly from person to person-pens, flyers, elastic bands. How many things are in our bag
now that we are unaware of, that have been passed to us and that we will pass on, never
cognizant of when they appeared and disappeared from our lives? What are the objects in
people’s bags that they are sufficiently attached to in the present to physically carry with them,
but will be lost or unaccounted for in a few months time?
BAG consists of a series of large-scale portraits taken in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New
York, Glasgow, MT, Urbana, IL and Iceland. Each portrait contains three separate elements.
Element 1: A photograph of the subject with their bag/purse/knapsack/briefcase. This image
will exhibit how the subject chooses to normally present him or herself to the outside world,
holding their bag paired with a photograph of the contents of the bag laid out as the subject
chooses his or her contents to be seen. Prints are 20x30”.
Element 2: The actual contents of their bag/purse/knapsack/briefcase gifted to us by the
subject, displayed in a clear plastic bag.
Element 3: A booklet listing all of the contents of everyone who participated in the project. The
idea is that the viewer will locate the list in the booklet and find the objects in the photograph or
in the plastic bag.
I am interested in portraits across age, socio-economic, gender, and race lines. I am interested
in why people carry what they carry and how that changes among different populations, how
objects are unwittingly passed between people; float in and out of people’s bag and of their
lives. This project takes an anthropological and sociological approach to the notion of exploring
peoples attachments and habits, as signified by the microcosm of what is in their BAG.
Camille Thoman conceived of the concept for BAG and Ellie Brown is the photographer/visual artist.