Editor's Pick

Everything You Own In A Photo: A Look At Our Worldly Possessions

Today on All Things Considered, photographer Peter Menzel and his wife, Faith D’Aluisio, discuss their latest book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets. But 16 years ago, Menzel was working on another project, called Material World: A Global Family Portrait. He and other photographers took portraits of 30 statistically average families with all of their worldly possessions displayed outside their homes.

  • The Ukita family in front of their home in Tokyo. From Peter Menzel's "Material World" project, which photographs 30 statistically average families in 30 different countries with all of their possessions.
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    The Ukita family in front of their home in Tokyo. From Peter Menzel's "Material World" project, which photographs 30 statistically average families in 30 different countries with all of their possessions.
    Peter Menzel/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • The Natomo family lives in two mud brick houses in the village of Kouakourou, Mali. They are grain traders and own a mango orchard. According to tradition, patriarch Soumana Natomo is allowed to take up to four wives; he has two, Pama and Fatoumata. They have separate households, but share meals in the courtyard of Pama's house.
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    The Natomo family lives in two mud brick houses in the village of Kouakourou, Mali. They are grain traders and own a mango orchard. According to tradition, patriarch Soumana Natomo is allowed to take up to four wives; he has two, Pama and Fatoumata. They have separate households, but share meals in the courtyard of Pama's house.
    Peter Menzel/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • Nalim and Namgay are subsistence farmers who live with their family in a three-story, rammed-earth house in the 14-house village of Shingkhey, Bhutan. Nalim and her daughter care for the children and farm. Namgay, who has a hunched back and a clubfoot, grinds grain for neighbors with a small mill purchased from the government. He also reads sacred texts and conducts house cleansing and healing ...
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    Nalim and Namgay are subsistence farmers who live with their family in a three-story, rammed-earth house in the 14-house village of Shingkhey, Bhutan. Nalim and her daughter care for the children and farm. Namgay, who has a hunched back and a clubfoot, grinds grain for neighbors with a small mill purchased from the government. He also reads sacred texts and conducts house cleansing and healing ceremonies.
    Peter Menzel/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • The Castillo Balderas family of Guadalajara, Mexico, outside their home with all of their possessions.
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    The Castillo Balderas family of Guadalajara, Mexico, outside their home with all of their possessions.
    Peter Menzel/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • The Lagavale family lives in a small tin-roofed open-air house in Poutasi Village, Western Samoa. The Lagavales have pigs, chickens, a few calves, fruit trees and a vegetable garden. They farm, fish and make crafts to support themselves. They also work for others locally, which helps supplement their modest needs.
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    The Lagavale family lives in a small tin-roofed open-air house in Poutasi Village, Western Samoa. The Lagavales have pigs, chickens, a few calves, fruit trees and a vegetable garden. They farm, fish and make crafts to support themselves. They also work for others locally, which helps supplement their modest needs.
    Peter Menzel/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • The Skeen family of Pearland, Texas. Rick works for a telephone company, and Pattie is a part-time teacher.
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    The Skeen family of Pearland, Texas. Rick works for a telephone company, and Pattie is a part-time teacher.
    Peter Menzel/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • From the series "Family Stuff"
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    From the series "Family Stuff"
    Huang Qingjun/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
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    Huang Qingjun/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
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    Huang Qingjun/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • From the series "Family Stuff"
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    From the series "Family Stuff"
    Ma Hongjie/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • No Alternative Text
    Ma Hongjie/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie
  • No Alternative Text
    Ma Hongjie/Photos 1-6: Peter Menzel; Photos 7-9: Huang Qingjin; Photos 10-12: Ma Hongjie

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While Menzel has moved on to new subjects, the topic of Material World remains relevant today. More recently, two Chinese photographers, Ma Hongjie and Huang Qingjun, took on a similar venture in their own country. Their project is called Family Stuff. Hongjie says he wanted to do such a project in China because, as he writes in an e-mail, “China is most diversified both geographically and ethnically.” Qingjun does not necessarily admit to being influenced by Menzel’s project. And yet, Family Stuff looks awfully familiar. What do you think?

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