Monday, May 18, 2009

Confessions of a Catalog Whore

It’s like this. My aunt Susan, besides being one of my favorite people on earth, is a photo stylist. And she has ruined me. Well, not ruined, exactly, that is not quite the right word – altered maybe. She’s taken one of my long secret passions and twisted it, tweaked it into an equally compelling, but completely lopsided passion. In both cases, the passion involves catalogs…

But I’m getting ahead of my own story. Let me start at the beginning.Long ago, before the internet, before one click-online-anything-goes-shopping, I used to hoard catalogs – and I mean hoard. Not just Sears, or the J.C. Penney Christmas book, but just about anything I could have sent to my mailbox for free. Seeds, tools, farm equipment, hand-dyed fabrics and my very favorite book of items to buy – greeting cards.I loved the photographs of all that stuff – but mostly I loved the convenience. The idea that someday, pending money, I would be able to anonymously order anything from a John Deere tractor to a seashell-lined photo frame and have it sent to my home. Voila. No need to change my pajamas – just like that.

Needless to say, the advent of the internet made pajama shopping an ordinary event, (so much for my special secret of shopping in the dark.) But at about the same time that the internet pushed its way into my bedroom, my auntie began her career as a photo stylist, and because I have always been an avid admirer of her art (which was and is extremely avant garde and anything but “catalogish”) I began to question her about what I perceived as a muting of her creative instinct, asking how she could go from the canvas to the retail market without losing something.

As my aunt began to patiently describe her craft, the genius behind each catalog page, a new vision began to develop before me. Susan talked about the real art of the catalog, about her unique style of setting up a page, about how it excited her to fold dress shirts just right, so that they became three-dimensional with inanimate arms almost reaching for the potential buyer. And then it happened. I began to realize that there was a SOMEONE, an ARTIST, behind every page of every catalog I had ever lusted over. So BANG – I was ruined, or rather, altered.I truthfully can no longer look at any retail ad – internet, catalog, newspaper or magazine without thinking about the person behind the page. And the result?? Everything is just that much more beautiful. And not from the point of view of “I need to buy that.” No, it is not that at all. It is a pure form of art. Ecstasy art.

I no longer just look at the items in a catalog, I look at the pages, and not just look, I linger over them. Yes, I hoard them.I have seen advertised one art exhibit displaying catalog pages from the 1940’s and 50’s. I am certain there are or will be many more art exhibits showcasing many more decades. The retail ad has become one of my favorite genres, thanks to my auntie – and I will always wonder about those anonymous artists behind each page.So there you have it - catalog whore becomes art collector. Who knew?
by Janice Katz, M.D.
Image above from Janice's NEW favorite catalog Cambria Cove

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