Most people like to watch TV.
I like to look at TVs.
For the past five years I’ve been trawling through TradeMe and saving photos of televisions to my hard drive, with a collection that totals in the hundreds and is quickly approaching the thousands.
It’s a bizarre obsession that started innocently enough. I needed a cheap TV for my home office, so I started browsing through the Trade Me galleries. I was immediately struck by the weird and sometimes hilarious images the photos-of-screens offered up. I won an auction the following week but kept going back to the galleries, this time looking through TVs of all sizes and prices, saving the most interesting images. A week later I posted the best photos to a Facebook album and people seemed to like it, so I repeated the process until I became the broken man writing this piece for you today.
In the early stages [of my obsession] with the TV photos, I appreciated a picture for its qualities as an image: the lighting, the colours, the composition – all of the regular criteria for aesthetic pleasure in photography. After browsing though my first few hundred TVs, patterns start to emerge: I’d notice the shows people were watching, what time of day they were taking photos, whether their TV is kept in the living or the garage or even the bathroom. If I had to describe the consistency of style throughout these images I’d call it ‘suburban vernacular’.
When your browsing reaches the thousands, the scope of your contemplation widens: you wonder how many hours of television exist between each still image, whether these photos are the final existing record of a live broadcast, and when people will realise that a TV screen is a highly reflective surface and make sure they’re fully dressed before taking a photo. You also begin to passively gather and process large samples of data relating to value, location and time: where in NZ people are selling which kind of TV and at what price. You become the fool who knows the price of everything, and the value of a pre-2010 42″ plasma from Swanson pick-up only.
Honestly, after a while it becomes quite meditative – and since the process has no logical endpoint (or logical starting point) and the exercise has no value that could diminish, I can see myself continuing to click, look and save for years to come.
Here is a selection of my favourite TradeMe TVs, with a very important PSA at the end:
Here’s the first image with simple aesthetic pleasures – a classic frame with vivid colours.
A colourful but faded outdoors on the screen, while the real outdoors flood the room with white light.
( o_ o)
Every TV is the same TV, if they’re tuned to same channel.
Aurora Borealis, localised entirely in your auction?
Sometimes the TV set itself is interesting – I love the way this one is presented like a shrine.
Everyone should customise their TVs. Trust me – you don’t need to worry about the resale value
Is this black and green, instead of black and white?
Good nick, picture bit fuzzy
Some people manage to capture a perfect shot of what’s happening on the screen – they might be iconic scenes, they might suit the environment or they might match other, seemingly unrelated photos
Everyone who’s read this far is wondering the same thing.
Everyone who’s read this far is going to be disappointed
That’s his name…
… Don’t wear it out.
When you really, really hate a Masterchef contestant
When you sober up and realise you agreed to tell The Spinoff about your collection of TV photos
- Always be dressed;
- use the timer function on your camera if you can, and step out of the frame;
- or adopt a no worries attitude to the process, like these two.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.