Peeking into 'BAGS' with Ellie Brown

by Ginger Rudolph

I’ve never thought much about the contents of other people’s bags. But I have thought plenty about who sees inside mine. Normally it’s crammed with things that I’d only be comfortable sharing with close friends. I try to deter overly familiar acquaintances from rummaging through it for those “do you have a…?” items. But sometimes I can’t protect my handbag fast enough. Precisely why I don’t mind splurging for the tampons that come wrapped up in pretty paper and disguised to look like candy wrapper. Which is why letting Philadelphia Photographer Ellie Brown coerce me into emptying the contents of my handbag and allowing her to photograph them, gave me a fair amount of anxiety.

BAG project is a photographic installation collaborated on by Ellie Brown and filmmaker Camille Thoman. It’s a voyeuristic look beyond our exterior façades. Society as a whole is more interested in what people don’t show us. The stream of thought for BAG project is that the real story lies in the objects we keep hidden away in plain sight.

A day before the shoot, I’m asked to wear my normal street clothes and I’m reminded that under no circumstances should I alter the contents of my purse. I am tempted too, but I don’t. I do however look at the items and wonder how each one will reflect on my character.

The BAG series consists of 20-40 large-scale portraits taken in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. My portrait is taken in Philadelphia. Once I arrive for the shoot, Ellie informs me that each portrait contains three separate elements. First, Ellie takes a photograph of me with my bag. Several actually, while Camille talks to me, asking me questions to evoke a more natural expression. Anything other than my deer caught in headlights look.

Then, I’m asked to empty the contents of my bag on a white sheet and arrange them the way I see fit. Ellie photographs the contents and then sits on the floor with me as she systematically catalogues everything. It’s weird seeing her touch all of my stuff, but I soon start to relax and go with the flow. She stops every so often to ask what a particular item is; some items provoke short adlibs from me. My answers are typed up by Camille – verbatim (wish I knew that ahead of time).

Finally, I’m asked three questions that determine how the contents of my bag are inventoried.
What items are you willing to part with right now – forever?
What items would you be willing to lend us temporarily for the duration of the exhibition?
What items are you not willing to part with?

The experience becomes increasingly more interesting the longer I sit and ponder over what I won’t give up versus what I’m mentally able to part with. I find the ability to see certain characteristic of mine played out in my bag’s contents laughable and touching. The day comes full circle when I get off the hotseat and hang around the studio and watch the other participants.

Ellie sent us some photos from the series so that you could peek into some stories – your conclusions are your own.

Ginger, Editor


Things she was willing to part with:
MOMA receipt, $15
Wrapper for Maoam Pinball’s “I love that candy, Elise brings it to me from London you can’t get it here”
Tim Burton brochure from MOMA
Three bobby pins
Thirteen cents
“Our mix for drinks at the Brazilian BBQ”, drink recipe
Buttons for her online magazine
“Nathan’s” Culture and Identity paper
Target receipt, $49.87
Papermate blue pen
Fuerza Bruta program

Things she was not willing to part with:
Empty contact lens case “I carry that everywhere”*
“ A recorder, I have a lot of them”*
Ipod, “it just croaked”*
MOMA catalogue*
Lemon Chewy wrapper*
Renu Contact lens solution
LA Girl “Flare” brown nail polish
Cheesecake Factory gift card for $10
Shay Butter lip balm
LA Colors Lipgloss
Burt’s Bees lip balm
Aquaphor Healing Ointment
Lil Angel Perfume
Turquoise tam hat
Brown Wet’n’Wild eyeshadow
Blue and Black glasses
“Stolen” Style pen
Gap buttons in a gap envelope
P.O. Box key
Jetstream Uniball pen
Verizon Smartphone
Charger for Verizon Smartphone
Car keys and “key for The Club, I still do old school”
“Catch all” Brown leather Purse
Brown Pleather business card holder
Weekly planner 2010
“My ‘need a new restaurant in New York this week’ book”
Two packs of pins for her website
“Grandma’s love letter – with people I have decided to #ff this week on twitter, written on the back of the envelope. I carry the letter cause she never says I love you so I thought, ‘I am going to keep it’…”


Greg, 40, Professor

Greg's Bag

Greg's Bag

Things he was willing to part with:Twizzlers wrapper
Eight Ricola cough drops
Acme receipt, $42.06
Drexel University Chorus card
“Grade form”
Dirty napkin “nothing suspicious on there”
FYE receipt, $50.06
“Notes for class”
Japanese Restaurant receipt, $21.60
Two generic cough drops
Broken plastic grey fork
A penny
Gum wrapped in foil
“Some rolled up official looking piece of paper”
City paper from March 25th, April 1st
Philadelphia Weekly, from March 31st
A Drexel newsletter
“An urgent letter from a former student”
Bic broken razor handle “emergency razor”
CVS cough drop wrapper
Ricola wrapper
Black pen cap
Notes on Casablanca
Two wire screens
“A cap to something”
Three 1p coins
Fifty pence coin
“My Blood work results from last year” (cover personal info!)


Things he was not willing to part with:Pamphlet from Drexel College of Medicine*
“Something from a Veterinarian, a receipt”*
Travels from a Scriptorium, by Paul Auster*
“Notes for class and life” on small lined notepad*
Marra’s Cucina Italiana menu*
Commerce Bank Pen*
Rabbit is Rich, by John Updike*
Memories of my Melancholic Whores, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
Burgundy tie*
Film editing syllabi*
Wrapper to nicotine patch*
“Some kind of pill here I don’t know what it is”
“Half a nicotine patch”
“That goes to a student’s paper”
Film Theory, by Thomas Elsaesser
DVD, Shadow of a Doubt
DVD, Notorious
Visine Advanced Relief
Yellow Notepad
Student Paper “ Lars Von Trier, Harmony Korine and the Dogma 95 Movement”
Ipod Touch with headphones
“Emergency disc flap”
Two student DVD creative projects
Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Student DVD project with orange Post-It note
Ipod Touch Manual
Two pounds fifty pence
Two SEPTA tokens
Fifty cents
Leather wallet
Silver bracelet “it was made for me a long time ago…sentimental bracelet”
The Philosophy of Motion Pictures, by Noelle Carroll
Yellow Post-It notes
Five paper clips
“That screwy ting…I think it is important”
Three binder clips


Wolf, 12, student

Wolf's Bag contents

Wolf's Bag contents

Things he was willing to part with:A penny


Things he was not willing to part with:Blue Game Boy
Nokia Twist telephone
8gig ipod Touch
Phone case with “pig thing” sticker
“ipod screen washy thing”
Brass knuckles
Keys—“flashlight, key to my grandparents, carabiner, key to lock, house key”
Misfits wallet
Comb “for your mustache”
Grizzly Flashlight “so I can see what’s in my bag”
Seven games for the Game Boy


Tom, 41, Studio Manager

A Peek into Tom's Bag

A Peek into Tom's Bag

Things he was willing to part with:Black Bic pen

Things he was not willing to part with:Bottle of smart water, unopened*
Unnamed lip and cheek stain*
Bottle of pumpkin potion for hair*
Nexus hair mousse*
Pack of parliament lights*
Cover Girl Advanced Radiance pressed powder, classic beige*
Organic Wear mascara “we just got that’*
Burt’s Bees lip balm*
Chanel lip gloss “Force”, “lipgloss for Jedi’s”*
Girls Dig Pearls Mermaid lipgloss*
Cover Girl aquasmooth compact foundation, creamy natural*
Cover girl lipstick “Your Mauve”*
Blue Bic lighter*
Verizon LG Phone
Keys “just about everything”
160gig ipod, no headphones, “I hate my headphones”
Stingray wallet, “we went down to the Caymans and bought that”
Nintendo DS
“My wonder kitty hat”



Keila's Bag contents

Keila's Bag contents

For more information on the BAG project, click here.

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