The Etsy Blog

Noted: The Hidden Human Touch 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.

More Noted Posts

Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.

  • TwinkleStarCrafts

    TwinkleStarCrafts says:

    This is very thought-provoking. Thank you.

    4 years ago

  • DinosDiedOfBoredom

    DinosDiedOfBoredom says:

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

    4 years ago

  • rosebudshome

    rosebudshome says:

    AHH a great Idea turned into art!

    4 years ago

  • funktionslust

    funktionslust says:

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

    4 years ago

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush says:

    what a great project, I loved this!

    4 years ago

  • melaniepaulson

    melaniepaulson says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • MootiDesigns

    MootiDesigns says:

    Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    4 years ago

  • MerCurios

    MerCurios says:

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

    4 years ago

  • artlife

    artlife says:

    Love these spooky, weird photos -- nice project!

    4 years ago

  • pillowflightpdx

    pillowflightpdx says:

    Neat idea!

    4 years ago

  • greenscribble

    greenscribble says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • TheIDconnection

    TheIDconnection says:

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

    4 years ago

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards says:

    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

    4 years ago

  • mymothershouse

    mymothershouse says:

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

    4 years ago

  • TheMacsX

    TheMacsX says:

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

    4 years ago

  • VintageEyeFashion

    VintageEyeFashion says:

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

    4 years ago

  • WatchWithDaDa

    WatchWithDaDa says:

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

    4 years ago

  • fantasygarden

    fantasygarden says:

    This is really interesting project and photos is so airy.

    4 years ago

  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    SimpleJoysPaperie says:

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

    4 years ago

  • tararie

    tararie says:

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

    4 years ago

  • unflappableproducts

    unflappableproducts says:

    very cool concept nothing is ever brand new I guess

    4 years ago

  • ohbabydotcom

    ohbabydotcom says:

    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" : )

    4 years ago

  • thriftage

    thriftage says:

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

    4 years ago

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree says:

    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!

    4 years ago

  • MillCreekVintage

    MillCreekVintage says:

    Pretty cool read. Thanks.

    4 years ago

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy says:

    nice imagery.

    4 years ago

  • bedouin

    bedouin says:

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

    4 years ago

  • Guchokipa

    Guchokipa says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • HouseOfMoss

    HouseOfMoss says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery says:

    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!

    4 years ago

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop says:

    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?

    4 years ago

  • SweetandDandyVintage

    SweetandDandyVintage says:

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

    4 years ago

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry says:

    Very cool!

    4 years ago

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage says:

    very interesting!

    4 years ago

  • Iammie

    Iammie says:


    4 years ago

  • girliepains

    girliepains says:


    4 years ago

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies says:

    Cool concept!

    4 years ago

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 says:

    Guchokipa - you said it beautifully.

    4 years ago

  • JLoVanVintage

    JLoVanVintage says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • somethinspecial

    somethinspecial says:


    4 years ago

  • 1papercut

    1papercut says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • TigerMonkeyCreations

    TigerMonkeyCreations says:

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

    4 years ago

  • VenusFashionServices

    VenusFashionServices says:

    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

    4 years ago

  • vianegativa420

    vianegativa420 says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • treasurebooth

    treasurebooth says:

    "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.

    4 years ago

  • FreshRetroGallery

    FreshRetroGallery says:

    ...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

    4 years ago

  • girliepains

    girliepains says:

    Not for germaphobes!

    4 years ago

  • KnellyBean

    KnellyBean says:


    4 years ago

  • xZOUix

    xZOUix says:

    wow, this is weird

    4 years ago

  • Peachygirl

    Peachygirl says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • BelmontNeon

    BelmontNeon says:

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

    4 years ago

  • torik2009

    torik2009 says:

    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 :)

    4 years ago

  • savethedate

    savethedate says:

    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!

    4 years ago

  • DevineCollectible

    DevineCollectible says:

    nice, real nice peace and love, karen DevineCollectible

    4 years ago

  • ideasthatbloom

    ideasthatbloom says:

    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!!

    4 years ago

  • smoobage

    smoobage says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • JudiBlumberg

    JudiBlumberg says:

    Hmmmmm something to think about Thanks.

    4 years ago

  • Avaricia

    Avaricia says:

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

    4 years ago

  • LaughLand

    LaughLand says:

    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!

    4 years ago

  • ObscureBeginnings

    ObscureBeginnings says:

    Beautiful, profound work!

    4 years ago

  • mayyoke

    mayyoke says:

    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.

    4 years ago

  • nudes

    nudes says:

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

    4 years ago

  • AntoinettesWhims

    AntoinettesWhims says:

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

    4 years ago

  • TooSoonOld

    TooSoonOld says:

    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.

    4 years ago