Hitting the Marq: Susan Mullally – “What I Keep”

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Susan Mullally takes photos of people with their most prized possessions in "What I Keep."

“If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only bring three things, what would they be?” It’s a popular question-turned-game for children, a way to instill sentimentalism over materialism.

The shoe-in answer: photographs. You always have to pick photographs for at least one.

And photographs are just the medium Susan Mullally decided to use to explore ideas of race, class, ownership, value and cultural identification in her project “What I Keep.”

Under Interstate 35 in Waco, Texas is a little place of worship called The Church Under the Bridge. Many members of this non-denominational, multi-cultural church have run into hard times in their life — homelessness, incarceration, drugs, mental illness, poverty and hopelessness.

Some are truck drivers, ex-cons, fast food chefs, ex-thieves or disabled. On Sunday mornings, under the interstate, Mullally asks these people which possessions they have kept and why they value them. She started doing this in 2007 and has collected over 60 images that speak louder than any answer to a hypothetical game.

The photographs are all taken in the same format: the subjects stand the same distance from the camera, no cheesy smiles. In front of them they hold whatever it is they “keep.” The consistency in composition only makes their prized object more eye-catching, even though on their own these knick-knacks may not be as striking.

One man holds peppermint candy in front of him. He’ll “take them with him to his grave” — and no, it has nothing to do with bad breath. A woman holds a purple tambourine — it means “everything” to her. Another woman holds an antique 7-Up bottle that used to be her grandmother’s. And yes, of course, one woman holds a photograph of her daughter, which she values because it’s irreplaceable.

It’s not the objects that make the photographs, but the people. Sounds like a pretty applicable metaphor to life.

Susan Mullally’s work can be found at susanmullally.com

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