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Style & Design

Estate Sale Studies

"This shot is one of the first photos from the project and one of my favorites. Of course, the beautiful light shining through the bathroom window drew me in, but more important to me was the poignancy of the scene: a new generation selling off the lacy negligee of perhaps their grandmother, who was once young but is now at the end of life or perhaps deceased," he says.

Photograph by Norm Diamond

After retiring from a high-stress career spanning thirty years as an interventional radiologist in 2012, Dallasite Norm Diamond was ready to embark on something entirely different during his newfound free time. As he explains, he went looking to capture emotion through photography— “some of the emotions I had experienced but not felt for some time.” On a whim, he stopped by an estate sale. Wandering through the house filled with a stranger’s relics, Diamond spotted a framed photo on the bedroom nightstand. “The man was middle-aged, confidently looking at the camera, dressed in a formal white dinner jacket—the master of his domain,” explains Diamond. The image—and its price tag of $2.50, implications he says, of “a life ended and of little worth”—made a lasting impression on him.

From then on, Diamond was hooked. For the next year, he frequented up to ten Dallas-area estate sales each week, documenting objects, moments, and mementos fraught with sentiment. The collection of photographs appears in his book, What is Left Behind—Stories from Estate Sales, coming out in May. Scouting out estate sales in as many different neighborhoods as he could find in the classifieds and setting a spending limit of $25 per sale, he brought home a selection of curated pieces, everything from intimate handwritten letters to wooden toy trains. He experimented with lighting and multiple camera settings to set the mood of each shot. The resulting photos come together as a fascinating study on objects-as-storytellers and the fleeting reality of value.

“There is nothing like an estate sale to remind me of my own mortality and life’s brevity,” Diamond says. “Children’s toys often sit a few feet away from wheelchairs. Despite having gone to innumerable sales, this portent of what ultimately lies ahead still jars me whenever I go. I lose myself in random thoughts of the past, the choices I have made, and the dreams I never pursued. Do other buyers sense their mortality as intensely as I do at these sales? When I see them shopping for bargains with voracious single-mindedness, I wonder: Perhaps browsing and buying chases away those thoughts of death. In the end, in some form, that is what we all do.”


Tags: Style, Estate Sales, Estate Sales in Dallas, Estate Sales in Texas, Norm Diamond, What's Left Behind