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Noted: The Hidden Human Touch

Jul 28, 2011

by Chappell Ellison handmade and vintage goods

As a kid, you might’ve had a fingerprint dusting kit, but you probably never thought to use it like Lorena Turner, a self-described “social scientist with a camera.” Turner went to several US department stores and purchased items manufactured and packaged in China. She kept them in their packaging until they were dusted for fingerprints and subsequently photographed under a black light. The eerie results show the glowing smear of fingerprints, emblazoned on items such as calculators, measuring tapes, and light bulbs.

In this project entitled Made in China, Turner aims to challenge the notion that all packaged goods are void of history, reminding us that a human hand is behind all the items we purchase. “Made in China is not intended to comment on the scale or absurdity of our consumptive practices, but to remind us that we are only one factor in that equation,” states Turner. “[This project] forces us to reconsider the relationship those who are leaving their fingerprints on each item may have with it.”

Through such a simple crime scene technique, Turner’s reanimation of these cold, everyday objects results in an undeniable warmth that no amount of plastic packaging can hide. If even the most mass produced objects are covered in workers’ fingerprints — the most unique identifier of an individual —  maybe there’s a little bit of authorship in everything that surrounds us. What if one day, instead of just hidden fingerprints, all of our goods were accompanied with the names of every person involved in the manufacturing process?

View more photographs of Made in China at Lorena Turner’s site.

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  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    TwinkleStarCrafts said 6 years ago

    This is very thought-provoking. Thank you.

  • DinosDiedOfBoredom

    DinosDiedOfBoredom said 6 years ago

    That is incredibly fascinating. I am so impressed not only by the entire concept, but also by the beauty of the photography. Well done!

  • rosebudshome

    rosebudshome said 6 years ago

    AHH a great Idea turned into art!

  • funktionslust

    funktionslust said 6 years ago

    very intriguing idea...everything is touched by a human at some point

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 6 years ago

    what a great project, I loved this!

  • melaniepaulson

    melaniepaulson said 6 years ago

    Wow. The photographs are a little jarring, they really breathe a little bit of life into the otherwise plain toy. It does make me wonder about the life of those who left the prints.

  • MootiDesigns

    MootiDesigns said 6 years ago

    Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  • MerCurios

    MerCurios said 6 years ago

    Good thing I'm not germophobic, otherwise I might never leave my house.

  • artlife

    artlife said 6 years ago

    Love these spooky, weird photos -- nice project!

  • pillowflightpdx

    pillowflightpdx said 6 years ago

    Neat idea!

  • greenscribble

    greenscribble said 6 years ago

    It's weird to imagine that someone else in the world has made and touched all kinds of random things that you buy without thinking about.

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDconnection said 6 years ago

    I love the florescent colors in your photos. Beautiful work! Monica TheIDConnection

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards said 6 years ago

    This is such a cool project! It definitely talks to the kid in me and it is just weird and intriguing... just right! Thanks for sharing.... now I'm going to tell everybody :) xoxo Hibou

  • mymothershouse

    mymothershouse said 6 years ago

    This is totally fascinating! I'm going to share this as well...thank you!

  • TheMacsX

    TheMacsX said 6 years ago

    A very thought provoking piece - showing everything still has that human touch. Thanks for sharing. Catherine@The MacsX xoxo

  • VintageEyeFashion

    VintageEyeFashion said 6 years ago

    We all leave an imprint whether we are aware of it or not.

  • WatchWithDaDa

    WatchWithDaDa said 6 years ago

    Very interesting. It's a little spooky. We leave ourselves wherever we go.

  • fantasygarden

    fantasygarden said 6 years ago

    This is really interesting project and photos is so airy.

  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    SimpleJoysPaperie said 6 years ago

    Interesting concept, but it just increases the desire in me to wash everything as soon as I bring it home from the store.

  • tararie

    tararie said 6 years ago

    Hehe, SimpleJoysPaperie! That's just what I was thinking! ;)

  • unflappableproducts

    unflappableproducts said 6 years ago

    very cool concept nothing is ever brand new I guess

  • ohbabydotcom

    ohbabydotcom said 6 years ago

    What most people fail to realize is the product may read, "Made in China" but more than likely it's an American company transplanted in China! Let's bring back "Made in the USA" : )

  • thriftage

    thriftage said 6 years ago

    A new way to look at handmade. Love the concept!

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree said 6 years ago

    That is such a unique idea - brilliant really! All the best to her! Thanks for sharing! I have to go and look at her site link now!

  • MillCreekVintage

    MillCreekVintage said 6 years ago

    Pretty cool read. Thanks.

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy said 6 years ago

    nice imagery.

  • bedouin

    bedouin said 6 years ago

    Thought provoking article. We may be coming full circle after all ~*~

  • Guchokipa

    Guchokipa said 6 years ago

    Though my husband and I do our best to buy locally (for us, looking for the Made in Japan label), we must do this without demonizing those who work in the factories. Watching the documentary Last Train Home and looking at Turner's images restores the sense humanity that is often lost when we scorn the Made in China label from a righteous ethical perspective. Those fingerprints are from mothers' hands, brothers' hands. Most likely, the owners of the fingerprints would rather leave their mark in this world in a different way but like many of us, they feel they have no choice. Turner's work immediately generates empathy and sparks discussion. Thank you for introducing her work to me.

  • HouseOfMoss

    HouseOfMoss said 6 years ago

    I tend to subconsciously write off packaged items as machine-made or sterile. It's so convicting to realize that the products I buy have definitely been handled at some point by a real person.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    Interesting idea, we're so removed from the people in the process of making things. Sometimes it's easy to forget that these items are made by people as well as big machines!

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop said 6 years ago

    It shouldn't spook us, to have fingerprints on stuff we thought was "sterile". It's only recently, with new forensic knowledge that we know what we leave behind. Lots of people don't want to think about that, so we lose sight of the man who cuts our meat, the pharmacist who mixes our meds, the person who made our hat and every item that has a strangers DNA on it. As they say, out of sight, out of mind, right?

  • SweetandDandyVintage

    SweetandDandyVintage said 6 years ago

    Though our names may not always be listed, our energy carries with all that we create...stay positive, pass it on. XOXO ;-)

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry said 6 years ago

    Very cool!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    very interesting!

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 6 years ago


  • girliepains

    girliepains said 6 years ago


  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 6 years ago

    Cool concept!

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 6 years ago

    Guchokipa - you said it beautifully.

  • JLoVanVintage

    JLoVanVintage said 6 years ago

    No, we shouldn't demonize those who work in factories, but we should demonize sweatshop owners. Buying local, or knowing who made the item (direct or fair trade) is a better option because they get paid a fair wage. If people really want to help those in factories live a better life, they should shop local stores instead of Wal-Mart for every day and gift items, donate to charities, and volunteer.

  • somethinspecial

    somethinspecial said 6 years ago


  • 1papercut

    1papercut said 6 years ago

    I love her execution of bringing art, social commentary, economics, and politics together in such a visually arresting medium. Yes, it's never as simple as condemning products made from a certain region. How do we gain insight into the factories with ethical labor conditions vs those with horrific ones? Is it pushing back on the retailer or distributors to ensure they are purchasing from ethical manufacturers? It's paralleled in the film, Food Inc. from the food industry perspective. Please also view, "Recycled Newspaper Bags Project" from the channel, Bulldogdreams, on YouTube. Very inspiring. TFS.

  • TigerMonkeyCreations

    TigerMonkeyCreations said 6 years ago

    This is Beautiful. Love and Light to All. :)

  • VenusFashionServices

    VenusFashionServices said 6 years ago

    This is an interesting story that brings out thinking in many aspects concerning our lives...societal, political, relations between countries, societal mingling, the necessity of an item to be transported through so many hands to be finalized to the supossing ready item, humanity, art, geography... It is very intriguing how everything that's done in this earth, in this life, in this solar system is recorded in every term. Artists and scientists are people who make us think and we are very fortunate to have them. Venusfashionservices

  • vianegativa420

    vianegativa420 said 6 years ago

    I think I'd like to know who provided the funding for that project. Forensic photography probably costs money like everything else. Maybe some (corporate-funded) "arts organization" who would like to mitigate the trend of thinking "Made in China" is a bad thing that has finally been catching on in America these days? Probably trace it back to the Rockefellers if you dig deep enough.

  • treasurebooth

    treasurebooth said 6 years ago

    "What if one day, instead of just hidden fingerprints, all of our goods were accompanied with the names of every person involved in the manufacturing process?" They sort of are to a certain extent, but sadly the identities are in the form of little starchy white papers that say something like "Inspected by #002-5678." Really thought-provoking article, thanks for posting.

  • FreshRetroGallery

    FreshRetroGallery said 6 years ago

    ...or the PICTURES of of every person involved in the manufacturing process?! That would be cool. I tell my husband that I'm doing my best to help others in their God-given vocations (designer, pressman, truck driver, clerk, janitor, etc.) and I'm stimulating the economy when I come home from shopping :-) Liz

  • girliepains

    girliepains said 6 years ago

    Not for germaphobes!

  • KnellyBean

    KnellyBean said 6 years ago


  • xZOUix

    xZOUix said 6 years ago

    wow, this is weird

  • Peachygirl

    Peachygirl said 6 years ago

    Talk about thought You're so right about those precious workers in China...they have lives, families, souls and stories to tell. Due to your article, I may never think of "made in China" the same way again! For that I thank you.

  • BelmontNeon

    BelmontNeon said 6 years ago

    As a factory worker myself, I'm a little creeped out now ;)

  • torik2009

    torik2009 said 6 years ago

    LOVE this! I remember watching something on tv a few months ago about AMG - If I remember correctly they have ONE worker that hand builds each engine on their cars, and when it is complete the mans signature is put on it. - This article just made me think of that :)

  • savethedate

    savethedate said 6 years ago

    Gotta buy more disinfecting wipes! j/k~ LOVE the photos, it is a wonderful idea and it makes us think about other people other than our little world!

  • DevineCollectible

    DevineCollectible said 6 years ago

    nice, real nice peace and love, karen DevineCollectible

  • ideasthatbloom

    ideasthatbloom said 6 years ago

    Never thought about the "human" side of mass producing. Thank you so much for sharing. When I see "made in XXX" I'll think about the overseas mouths I'm feeding, not the production line!!

  • smoobage

    smoobage said 6 years ago

    I work in a little retail shop that has many different items from all over the world. Two Chinese foreign exchange students came in with their host mom., They were young girls about 13 or 14 they were sooooo excited as they looked around the shop pointing out the items "made in china". They were proud! It was a nice change from the Americans whom often commented negatively on the items from china.

  • JudiBlumberg

    JudiBlumberg said 6 years ago

    Hmmmmm something to think about Thanks.

  • Avaricia

    Avaricia said 6 years ago

    Thanks, it is not often that something I read online makes me a better person.

  • LaughLand

    LaughLand said 6 years ago

    There are no germs on fingerprints. All of the items photographed were clean. I don't know where the idea came from that everything is better and 'cleaner' if it is sterile and disinfected. The world isn't like that. If you put my etsy items under a microscope, I hope you see fingerprints because I made it!

  • ObscureBeginnings

    ObscureBeginnings said 6 years ago

    Beautiful, profound work!

  • mayyoke

    mayyoke said 6 years ago

    this is such a fascinating project! i'm so intrigued by the "mark" we all leave everywhere, everyday on everything we touch. as a consumer and handcrafter, i'm so glad this project is being done - because it humanizes the things we purchase and use -and trash on a daily basis. i too soon take for granted the mass produced things i use daily, and the real life people behind them. thank you for reminding me of the invisible hands that contribute to my life.

  • nudes

    nudes said 6 years ago

    Nice to see a great visual artist doing meaningful work and being noticed!

  • AntoinettesWhims

    AntoinettesWhims said 6 years ago

    Oh my goodness, the thought of how many things I marked today alone with my fingerprints. Wow!

  • TooSoonOld

    TooSoonOld said 6 years ago

    Interesting artistic study, but I question what Etsy's purpose is in highlighting it. Paving the way to redefine handmade as anything that bears a human fingerprint? Add this to Coralgate's promotion of a mass-merchandiser and it makes me wonder.

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