Feature: “Turnover Sale” by Max Branigan

Max Branigan is a photographer and musician based in Brooklyn, New York. He also makes GIFs and loves dogs. You can also find him on Instagram.

Tell us more about “Turn Over Sale.” Where was this shot? How long have you photographed this, and what made you want to create this archive as a project?

The Turnover Sale has been run for 85 years at Morrow Church in the town of Maplewood, New Jersey. My mom and I began volunteering at the sale about six years ago. I work the electronics section and she works boutique. We are not affiliated with the church (we’re both jewish) but enjoy selling and appraising the objects.

The idea of shooting it developed when I saw the path this junk took each year. Things are often donated with marks from the previous owners: a dedication in books, a full memory card, a repaired Precious Moment. These marked objects are exchanged between members of the community, often buyers will recognize the person or family who donated the object and I have occasionally seen objects return to the sale after being bought the previous year. Through this yearly cycle, I saw the people of this place changing through their possessions, shifting with cultural and technological trends and aging alongside the objects.

I don’t think the sale will be around forever. The core group of volunteers are getting older and young urban professionals are moving to Maplewood to raise families. They may go to the sale, but are not replacing this older religious community. So if that sale disappears, I want a record of it for the community.

What are some of your favorite objects that you found at the Sale? What are some unexpected things that you find at the sale?

I once found a book called “Etti-Cat, The Courtesy Cat,” a book of manner from the 1960’s illustrated by a frumpy looking cat. I tend to obsess over the objects with markings, so books end up being a large part of what I collect. You chose that note about drinking tea, which was found in “The Highly Sensitive Person.” Also, the trophies and memorabilia all packed together on folding tables are really fascinating to me. It’s years of accomplishment and effort, and they throw them out because no one wants a second hand trophy!

I am surprised by how much people donate without removing personal information. I found a dozens of poems from a 12 year old stuffed into a typewriter (including a horror story about book socks), thousands of images on memory cards, and frames with family photos.

Is maintaining relationships with communities an important part of your practice? Why?

My work revolves around the comfortable spaces people find to talk about themselves, be it a convention, performance space, or online forum. No one wants to be taken advantage of, especially when they are operating within their own community.

The joy in making things for me comes in the empathetic relationship I can build with the audience and subject. Figuring out how to engage with the church community has become a project in itself. I am trying to understand these people and I am trying to make art and sometimes that is the same thing, but at other times they feel like opposites. I want the members of the community to understand why I am interested in them, what they are giving me, what I want to give them, and why I think they should be seen.

What are some of your thinking or strategies in reconciling the opague histories of the objects that you’ve documented?

I try to find objects which suggest a definite previous usage, or at least open up potential histories. Specific names or dates point to a verifiable use, that helps people ground the work in reality. Viewers will be more engaged if they are encouraged to imagine the people who owned and donated these things, I hope that mixing in specific clues towards real people with the completely unidentifiable will encourage a investigative attitude from the viewer.

A future aspect of this project is also identification from the community. As I shoot and publish more of this work, I want to seek out people who recognize the objects in the images. An early attempt at this was when I printed out images from the previous years and placed them in frames, books, and boxes at the sale. That ended up being a little too cryptic, but the idea of using these images to reunite objects with there original owners is something that I am very interested in.

How does this project fit with the rest of your practice?

The rest of my practice focuses on two interests:

  1. The ways people use objects or communities in order to develop a language for intimacy
  2. Creating work which provides a tangible benefit to the subject.

For example, I shoot nightlife and performance because because the performers can directly benefit from my representation of them. I photograph dog culture because it’s a community where people feel comfortable communicating desire, control, love, and loyalty using their pets as a conduit for these conversations.

I think this project is little bit of an outlier. It hasn’t been truly effective in serving the community, though the goal is still to give this archive to the community in some way. The objects also do not speak to the community in the same way that a singular subject would (like dogs in dog culture). The project has become a little bit of a problem child, but the next Turnover Sale is this July and I am excited to get back to work on it!

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