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Photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s recent project, Toy Storiescombined anthropological study with artistic endeavor to showcase children with their prized possessions: their toys. Galimberti not only captures differences in the items that children around the globe chose, but he also shows the way in which the materiality of youth suggests a shared sentimentality about the little things that children call their own. His work reminds us that children see an object's value as determined by far more than cost. They curate collections, put their action figures on pedestals and they nurture their stuffed animals not because of their cost, but because in their eyes they are priceless. His images don’t tell us the whole story, but in these objects, we begin to see them not as separate from these children, and not as “object and subject,” but as part of a dynamic relationship with the children whose identities they both influence and express.   

What are U.S. kids’, tweens’ and teens’ prized possessions? According to YouthBeat data from 2012, their top ten include a mix of tech and non-tech, of the instrumental and the intimate. Think teens have lost that tender spot for their stuffed animals? Think again! 

What does this mean for your brand? Don’t ignore the importance of objects when seeking to understand the lives of youth today. Move beyond seeing things as evidence of mere materialism, and instead, look for the meaning that youth make of their most loved and coveted items (and the meaning these items convey to them). And, as Galimberti’s work reminds us, don’t just ask or analyze, but look. Listen to the stories that kids’, tweens’ and teens’ tell, but don’t forget to read into these items to find the untold narratives that characterize youth culture right now.