The inexplicable photography of online ads

Where do you turn for photographic inspiration? Flickr, perhaps? Or Instagram? Not me — not anymore. I turn to online auctions and classified ads.

I’ve gained a bit of weight recently, for reasons I don’t understand. So I’ve been shopping the online auction sites for cheap-yet-more-or-less-presentable Pants In A Bigger Size™.

And I’ve made two discoveries: There’s no such thing as cheap presentable pants. But more importantly, I’ve learned that online auctions and classified ads are the greatest undiscussed incubator of experimental deconstructionist photography on the planet. It’s true!

I know what you’re thinking. “Show me.” And I will. (Because even this writer must grudgingly admit that a picture is worth 1,000 words.)

But first I want you to know that the photos you’re about to see are disturbing and real. So if you’re squeamish about asking your brain to process pictures that CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD, best stop now. You’ve been warned.

Also, because these images CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD, I think it may be helpful to develop a taxonomy of sorts — you know, to at least name the photographic chaos that’s about to ensue.

Ready? Let’s start with …

The Masters of Perspective

If the early Renaissance artists mastered linear perspective to create a sense of space, these photographers have done the exact opposite.

Where was this shot — on the Space Shuttle? No wonder the description said the soles are “like new.” You can’t walk on the ground in zero gravity!

eBay white shoes BLOG

Meanwhile, in menswear: Will the new “woodtick-cut” shirt soon be sweeping the fashion world? Buy this pink monstrosity and be the first to find out.

eBay boxy shirt BLOG

Oh! And remember those stories from your youth about The Phantom Barn Jacket of the Adirondacks? At last, here’s proof it actually exists. PS: Pay no attention to the dog. He’s still trying to figure out the previous photo.

eBay jean jacket and dog BLOG

Model Citizens

Not everyone displays their wares as floating abstract forms, however; a few photographers do celebrate the human form in all its glory.

And what lovelier expression is there of the human body than a young woman working in her garden? Look how beautifully this free-range dress hugs her delicate form as she moves small-batch, locally sourced dirt around her yard.

eBay Buddha dress wheelbarrow BLOGIt’s too bad the artisanal hand-painted Buddha wasn’t ultimately able to overcome her feelings of emptiness and disaffection, though.

eBay Buddha dress BLOG

Well, at least this guy is happy in his Aran Islands sweater. (Whitening toothpaste, falcon, and castle sold separately.)

eBay falconer BLOG

Ditto for this dapper fellow, who looks dreamy — quite literally — in his Bill Cosby sweater. “Size medium,” reads the sweater’s description, “with some character flaws.”

eBay hipster sweater BLOG

But what if you’d rather not show your face at all? No problem. There’s always this luxurious fur coat for the style-conscious flasher.

eBay fur for flashers

 The Abstractionists

Then there are the photographers who — despite their best efforts — leave us wondering, “What on God’s green earth is that?”

In this seller’s defense, at least he/she *attempted* to provide measurements. “Chest measures approximately mmphffeventeemph minchfess …”

Charter Club cashmere

And what do you suppose this is? If you guessed “kitty-door for tigers,” or “terrifying hole in the night sky,” you’re close.

eBay tiger pants on floor BLOG

It’s actually a pair of pants. Yes! You know, for those times when you want to let things … “breathe.”

eBay tiger pants BLOG

And this dress. How long must one leave it plugged in before it’s fully charged, I wonder?

eBay electric dress BLOG

The Selfienistas

Ah, yes … back to the human form, though this time with 30% less gloriousness.

I’m not a big fan of selfies to begin with, but even less so when it’s someone I don’t know. Remind me what you’re selling, again?


Ditto for the gratuitous boom-boom shots. “Selling my shirt to help pay for my new boobs,” they seem to be saying. I’m all for self-improvement, I guess.

eBay tee BLOG

eBay Vikings shirt BLOG

Rest in Peace, Toonces

Our penultimate cat-egory deals with love lost.

I can empathize; I lost my beloved dog Arrow the same year “Toonces” died (according to the memorial in the seller’s listing). But … making a cardboard cut-up and dressing it in different outfits?

Toonces EBAY 6

Toonces EBAY 4

Though I must admit this last scarf works beautifully with Toonces’ coloring …

Toonces EBAY 2


Which brings me to the last category in our taxonomy of online-classified photos: Words. Yes, photos of words! Because sometimes a picture really can’t say it all.

Though, honestly, this description of the “built-in panty with 3 hooks and 2 rows to keep everything in place” kind of terrifies me …

eBay Flexees hooks blog

And what’s this about a drill? Metal housing, you say? Stored in dad’s barn?! Well, they can’t say that at Sears.

eBay shopcraft drill BLOG


Editor’s note: It is HBlog’s policy to properly attribute others’ work whenever possible. But because some of the images in this post are more than two years old — and because they were gleaned from a variety of online classified sites whose listings are by definition temporary — it was impossible to locate the authors of many of the images presented here. Please note that the copyright belongs to the original owners/creators, and that the images are reproduced here only for the purposes of commentary. If you are the owner/creator of one of these images and want me to remove it, please drop me a note. Or if you can explain any of these photos. Yes … if you can explain any of these photos, I’d welcome a note about that too.



  1. Well, you’ve done it now.
    The next time we meet I shall have “built-in panty with 3 hooks and 2 rows to keep everything in place” very much in mind! Hopefully, the ‘big fella’ will be around to bring me down to earth!

    • You like the idea of all those rows and hooks, do you? HA HA! Well, no worries about maintaining your equanimity — the big fella will be there indeed!

      Thank you for starting my day with a *huge* smile.

  2. I”m curious what the Indonesian tree-frog-sounding sculpture has to do with the power drill with the short at the handle. Maybe the tree-frog sound is what the drill sounds like as it shorts in and out 🙂

    • Indonesian tree-frog-sounding sculpture? Is *that* what that is? My friend Tom and I had been puzzling over it, and especially over its significance. I think you may have just answered one of the most inexplicable questions, Jeff. Thank you!

      PS: When it arrives, I’ll let you know how the drill sounds when it shorts out. 🙂

      • The sculpture works by taking the stick out of the frog’s mouth, and rubbing it against the ridges on the back. The opening where the stick came from resonates from the vibration and it sounds like tree frogs.

        I got one in Disney World a long time ago …..

        • Thank you for that, Jeff! I will pass this on to my friend Tom, who I suspect will sleep better at least knowing what that thing is. (Though *why* it was in the photo remains a mystery.)

    • So glad you liked these too, Angelina. I’ve been saving them for a couple of years as I’ve run across them, and they’ve never failed to bring a smile. 🙂

  3. This deserves serious attention. Camera in hand and fully charged – I’ll hit the city. I know a shop where they may sell the Tiger Pants (I too have an influx of unexplained weight). I keep a lookout for the Aran cardigan with falcon.
    Way to go girl!

    • It makes me deliriously happy that this post has provided some creative inspiration for you, Sally. I’ll be eager to hear whether you find the Tiger Pants of your dreams. Happy hunting! 🙂

  4. This is glorious! 😀 You know, though, I think you may be being a little harsh on the cat outfit stylist. I think clothes modelled on dead pets could become A Thing. (We could MAKE it a Thing. We could take ovar teh interwebz with clothes on cat photos…)

    OK, so I have the castle – do you think I can git me a hawk on e-bay, and maybe a man in an Aran cardigan while I’m at it? A girl can dream….

    • “We could take ovar teh interwebz with clothes on cat photos.” HAHAHAA! Let’s make it so, DB. I will procure a cat this very evening. (But an old one, so we don’t have to wait too long for it to die.)

      As for that castle photo, why yes, I believe you *can* mail-order a hawk on eBay! The shipping fees on the man would probably be horrendous, though, so probably best to source him locally … 😉

      Thank you for making my day with your witty comment.

  5. this is hilarious, when I started reading the first few sentence I was reminded of Sophie Amoruso’s book #GIRLBOSS, where she explains her eBay days and the art of auction photography. I was thinking ooh this person has the right idea, she might be on to something. But after reading through, aha, you my dear, are clearly onto something else, something much bigger!

    • What a kind comment. Thank you! I continue to collect — and marvel at — these artifacts as I stumble upon them. Some of them are so far out there, they’re worthy of display in a museum. And thank you for telling me about Sophie Amoruso’s book; I hadn’t heard of it, so I’m eager to check it out. Cheers to you!

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