“If your house was burning, what would you take with you?” This is the question Foster Huntington asks in his Tumblr (turned book) The Burning House. More than 5000 people from around the world have answered his question in photo form, neatly lining up their most treasured possessions into aesthetically pleasing arrangements.
“At the time when I started the Burning House project, I was living in New York and working as a concept designer for men’s fashion,” says Huntington, now a 26-year-old freelance photographer living in Skamania, Washington. “I was inundated by this culture that was based around the idea that you define who you are by the cool shit that you own. I was interested in the idea that the stuff that’s really important to you isn’t necessarily the stuff that’s most expensive. I had jokingly started asking my friends what they would take if their house was burning, just as kind of a prompt, then I started taking my own photos of things, then posted it on the blog and opened it up for submissions.”
There are the practical picks—laptops, passports, and car keys—and the sentimental—photos, stuffed animals, gifts from family. (From his own burning house, Huntington says he’d save film negatives and his hard drive. “Other than that, it can all burn,” he says.) The volume of things chosen makes it seem like most of these people are planning for a pretty slow-burning fire, but if you don’t let yourself get bogged down in the logistics of the hypothetical scenario, the photos are interesting evidence of people’s relationship with objects.