In her 2007 collection of essays Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, Sherry Turkle asked her contributors to explore their emotional and intellectual connections with everyday objects. According to the introduction, her book seeks to clarify “the inseparability of thought and feeling in our relationship to things.”1 The various chapters dwell on each of the authors’ felt relationship with the given object—a discarded pair of shoes, a beloved toy, a favorite car. The overall emphasis lies less on the instrumental power of each object than on the ways material things become carriers of our life experiences—and in turn, how these object relations can provide food for thought.
In a certain light, Nina Berman’s series Object Lessons reads like a critical rejoinder to Turkle’s project. The photographs explore a rather different, more rapacious spectrum of object relations. Imagine if Alex Campbell—the violent and seasoned Chicago pimp also known as “Daddy”—were to write a chapter for Turkle on his cufflinks (see figs. 8 and 9). Campbell called himself “the Cowboy” and had a collection of custom-made jewelry featuring a horseshoe logo. The branding extended to the women who worked for him: he tattooed his logo onto their necks, and in one case had a thirteen-line, sixty-word homage to himself tattooed onto a woman’s back.2