When photographer Statia Grossman went through a difficult break up last year, she immediately turned to her own medium to help her mend. With her sense of humor and camera in hand, she began to painstakingly record and annotate all of the items her ex left behind in their shared apartment: the vinyl, the clothes, the evidence of vices, the remnants of trips taken.
What started out as a photo series on Instagram and Tumblr quickly turned into her book Shit You Left Behind: Hell Hath No Fury Like A Photographer Scorned. Some of Statia’s photographs are laugh-out-loud funny, some are more vulnerable, some are dark; but they are all glimpses into the simultaneous anger and sadness we all struggle to balance after a break up.
Against a backdrop of left-behind things, Statia hilariously rides the roller coaster of post-break up emotions and shows us that, despite it all, her optimism (and sense of humor) remains in tact: “In the end, I choose love...and my sweet revenge."
We caught up with Statia to talk about the break up, how a community of strangers on Instagram and Tumblr came together to support her and which Taylor Swift song got her through that period. We are also excited to announce our 'Shit You Left Behind' contest where you can enter your own photos to win a copy of Statia's book! Check out the details below.
I feel like this [the book] says the kind of stuff that a lot of people think about saying, but not everyone necessarily has the guts to say. It’s nice to know that we’re not all temporarily insane and that anger is normal. It’s a normal part of grieving. Can you talk a little bit about the break up behind it - when was it?
The break up was spring of 2013. I literally photographed the initial set of images the week after we broke up. It was a complete immediate reaction.
So it was very fresh.
It was very, very fresh.
So you took the first picture...were you immediately thinking to share it on social media? Or was it sitting on your camera for a while and you found it later?
The funny part of the story was that I had the idea to do the book, like the full idea, and then my ex broke up with me...and a few days later they came over to talk, sort of like our last talk. I said ‘I’m going to photograph all your stuff before you take it.’ And I’m going to do a photo essay called ‘Shit You Left Behind.’ And they said, ‘Oh yeah what are you going to do, put your half naked body in it?’ And that’s when the lightbulb went off (laughs).
(Laughs) I was wondering whether you had heard from them since the book got published?
I told them I was doing it. I photographed it all, and then I sat on it for a couple months. I knew that once I started actually publishing it, I would totally burn that bridge forever. So I sat on it and I wanted to work out the captions. I didn’t want it to come across as angry. I wanted it to be something that everybody could connect to.
I think it’s a challenge for any artist or writer when they go through heartbreak. It’s like, this is such a big part of my life, how do I not talk about it honestly without upsetting the person? But I thought you did a good job. It feels very authentic and raw, but I can see how it would be difficult for the other person.
It was hard. I feel like I took great care to not in any way identify them, but I knew it was going to upset them.
So you started by posting on Tumblr.
I did Tumblr and Instagram at the same time. Instagram is my medium as a photographer. I had never done anything on Tumblr before, but I felt like it would be a good way to have more people see it.
What was the response like?
The response was amazing. I think the first three or four people were a little confused because I was posting one a day. But then a few into it, people really connected to it and had really great things to say. Especially on Instagram, I was getting a lot of comments, and it made it easier to do it. So every day I posted one my heart was racing putting myself out there like this. But a lot of people genuinely connected with it, both men and women, so I felt good. I felt like it served its purpose, which was to tell a story. You know, it’s my story but it’s also everybody’s story.
It connects so many people. In the book, it’s mentioned that this is the first time you’re in front of the camera because normally you’re the person taking the photos. A lot of them are pretty intimate. What was the process of actually taking the photos? Did you have a friend helping?
I started out doing it myself, but I quickly realized it would be easier if I had a friend clicking the button instead of constantly moving a tripod and setting an auto timer. So I ended up having about 4 or 5 friends come over to help me throughout the weeks that I was photographing, which actually made it so much easier and nicer...because not only was I working on this, but I was super upset, and all my friends were there. They were all helping me. It made for this really great couple of weeks of intense friendship.
That sounds amazing.
It was, it really was. There was one day where we were all here, and we were like, ‘Let’s try this!’ ‘Let’s do this!’ It was great. The process of shooting it was great...it was certainly harder to put images of myself out in the world. That was the hard part.
But it sounds like you got pretty immediate feedback. That’s one of the great things things about Instagram - you can get pretty immediate feedback that you’re not alone. I love that an organic community came together while you were shooting.
It’s really cute. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from people on Instagram saying that they got their copy of the book. These are people I’ve never met, but they found me when I was running this. It was this community of strangers that was there to support me.
Was this over a series of weeks or months?
It was a little bit less than a month.
So you got to the end of the month. Did you know with the last picture that would be the end? Did you have it all planned out?
No, I had them all printed out - they lived on my bedroom floor (laughs). I was constantly rearranging the order and constantly rewriting captions. I was literally living it.
So it wasn’t too fresh to deal with? It sounds like it helped you process.
It was a really hard break up. It was fresh, but it wasn’t completely raw. It definitely helped me. It was something to do other than me sitting around feeling sad and lonely. And then with everyone connecting with it, it really felt good.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself now that you’ve come out the other side?
You know, I think it was probably the same advice I was giving myself at the time. I knew that time would heal it. I think that’s the universal healer, time. And one of the reasons this project helped was that it kept me going, it kept me doing something, it kept me occupied. It allowed that time to pass.
How are you doing now? Are you back in the dating world? Any future partners that have seen this book?
Well the breakup was about a year and a half ago, so I have been back out in the dating world. The book has been in the works pretty much that whole time, so everyone I’ve dated has had to hear about it. A lot of people would find me on social media and go into a first date being like, ‘So that book...let’s talk about that.' You know I would get a lot of people who would say things like ‘I already know what you look like in your underwear.’
You looked amazing, by the way. The images were so strong - it never really felt like you were the victim. You made something positive out of something negative.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
Okay last question, what is your favorite song about heartbreak, or what is the one you listened to a lot during this time of your life? I noticed when going through the photos that music seemed to be a big part of both of your lives...
Well the big song at the time as I was going through the break up was Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (laughs).
(Laughs) So I have to say, I love Taylor Swift by the way, but I did not peg you as a big Taylor Swift fan.
I know, but it was on the radio and the actual words I said to my ex when I told them about the project were ‘I’m about to be the Taylor Swift of Instagram.’
I love that. Well, that’s a good one. She is the queen of heartbreak songs, at least for right now...
Images Copyright © 2014 by Statia Grossman from Shit You Left Behind: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Photographer Scorned. Reprinted by permission of Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint.