Cleaning By Numbers

Imagine you’re clearing out the home your parents lived in for 50 years? Imagine you are going through the belongings of your parents’ marriage, your childhood years, your mother’s death, the things that should have been thrown away but never were. What patterns, what obsessions, what neuroses would your clear out reveal? And how would you photograph it?

That is the dilemma that lay before Dutch photographer Ton Grote when his father decided to clear out the family home on Eindhovenseweg 56. What lay before him, according to the accompanying text, was ‘a house full of memories and dreams… teapots, old cameras, power strips, glasses, and a worn out football. Treasured things they grew up with and the objects his parents used.’

The result of Grote’s photography is this brilliant book, ‘a Spurensicherung of real and fictional events,’ where images are collected, gathered, categorized and sequenced systematically for inclusion in this book. Spurensicherung (I had to look it up too) means the gathering of evidence, it evokes something that is at the same time archaeological, forensic, with hints of a criminal investigation.

And that is apparent in the book which has the various objects laid out across the page in various grid forms. Everything is regulated, it all fits into a grid. Each individual image comes with a number inscribed in light typewriter font in the top left corner of the frame to add to that idea of documentation and the archive.

Number 1 is a clock. We start with time and that takes us through the first few pages. Old alarm clocks, grandfather clocks, display clocks, clock radios, and wristwatches make an appearance. It’s like going through the chronological strata of ownership. If you’ve ever seen the wonderful Below the Surface documentation of the excavation of an Amsterdam canal, that is the territory we are in.

We skim through the pages and come up against documentation of electronic goods, of toilet brushes, of roller skates, each section a mini-historical documentation of an escalating age of consumption. The roller skates move from the weird clay-wheeled frames that kids in the early 1970s used to wear through to the more complex apparatus of the 1980s and beyond.

There are phones, photo albums, instruction manuals and the framed prints that decorate the walls. JFK vies with Pope John Paul II who view with multiple images of Grote’s mother.

Age, illness, diet, and domestic space are all documented. It’s like a Rachel Whiteread sculpture where the contents lead you to read what the actual house might look or feel like.

The grid is repeatedly disrupted. Images have different sizes and are given different weight throughout the book so the documentation has a human touch to it. It feels quite intimate and revealing and the softness of the paper and tonality of the images printed on them add to that. This is a man’s life, a family’s life being laid out for us to view. There is love, sorrow, tedium, and grief in there.

There are some great documentations of objects in photography; Christien Meindertsma’s Hidden Baggage, pretty much anything by Hans Peter Feldmann, Leonie Hampton’s In the Shadow of Things just to name a few. And now we have Eindhovenseweg to add to that list.


All photos © Ton Grote


Eindhovenseweg 56 - Ton Grote 2nd edition

115mm × 220 mm // 336 pages // € 30.00 // ISBN: 978-94-92051-73-8 // 2nd edition: 1250



Ton Grote works as an HR advisor in a hospital. In addition to his work, he is an enthusiastic photographer and fanatic collector of photo books. For him recording is a form of preservation. Capturing in photos gives him a lot of energy.

Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, All Quiet on the Home Front, focuses on family, fatherhood and the landscape. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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