At first glance, Norm Diamond’s photos look like carefully observed, beautifully composed domestic still lifes – a lace dress is lit by window light through white curtains, a collection of toys hide under an iron bed. But these are not photos made in the homes of Diamond’s friends or acquaintances—in fact he’s never met the people who treasured these objects. His series, “What Is Left Behind,” on view at Davis Orton Gallery until November 15, explores estate sales, focusing on objects that suggest the personal stories of their owners. Spotting the price tags on a pair of family portraits transforms them into something much darker than they appear at first—these objects are not a treasured link to the past, but, at best, a good deal or an interesting find.
Diamond, who became serious about photography after a career in interventional radiology, started going to estate sales out of curiosity. He writes in his in his artist’s statement: “After getting past a huge array of dishes and furniture, I found a framed photograph of a formally dressed man, obviously the owner of the house, priced at $2.50. I found it incredibly sad. I made a photograph and got hooked.” Diamond began photographing at sales, sometimes buying objects that appealed to him and photographing them in different contexts. Using his camera at the sales, “At first I was self-conscious,” he writes, “but soon [I] realized everyone else was interested in buying or selling. Sometimes I purchased intriguing items and took them home to shoot in better lighting. By photographing these personal possessions from previous generations, I reconnect with my own past. I think of my parents and the memories they left for my sister and me.” The project connects him to the future, as well. “One day my children might have an estate sale for my possessions, and I wonder what those items will say about me,” he writes.