Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

Hannah Queen’s contribution to The Burning House (image via

The Burning House is a website and project that presents photographers showing what they would save from their house if it was on fire. If they could only grab a select few things, these artists choose notebooks, favored cooking utensils, special clothes and personal gear.

The project poses the question simply:

If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It’s a conflict between what’s practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities. Think of it as an interview condensed into one question.

It’s true that what makes the project interesting isn’t necessarily the objects themselves, though some of the arrangements pictured are beautiful in their own right. What makes the photos so fascinating is the guessing game that we play in trying to piece together the personalities behind the choices. An artist might choose a favorite painting while a designer might be sure to pick a certain dress. Chris Adamiak, a maintenance worker in Ontario, Canada, selects a utility knife and work boots.

These memento mori portraits-through-objects give just a hint of the people behind them, enough to guess, but never enough to know. Rohan Anderson brings a hunting rifle, Hollister Hovey has a bear head on his list and Tucker Gorman has a Macbook and a teddy bear. Each choice brings new details to a personality, a kind of non-morbid version of these photographs documenting death row inmates’ last meals.

What would you take with you?

The Latest

Required Reading

This week, a Frank Stella is installed as a public artwork in NYC, the women behind some iconic buildings, looting Cambodia, fighting anti-boycott laws, and more.

Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

2 replies on “What Would You Save From a Burning House?”

  1. I found out last summer what I’d grab…camera gear, laptop, the cat and my purse, and I had to leave the cat behind, because I was overcome by smoke.  Not enough time to grab anything else.

  2. I found out when the furnace exploded I would not have a choice. This article is painful. I lost everything. And then in Katrina 3 years later I lost all my silver gelatin negatives that were in my car during the fire.

Comments are closed.