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aug 02

An inside look at "illicit" airport finds

We're all familiar with the security signs wallpapered across airports, encouraging us to report any suspicious packages we may come across. I, for one, am always on the lookout (I think I watch too many detective shows on TV!), but have never, luckily, caught sight of anything out of the ordinary.

A photo gallery posted on the New York Times site (tied in to article in Sunday's print edition) gives us all a glimpse at some of the thousands of contraband items detained from international flights.

The 40 images depict everything from the expected (bongs and pirated DVDs of the fourth season of Lost) to the eyebrow-raising (fake Louis Vuitton purses, cleverly disguised to look like unassuming everyday shopping bags, and two dead guinea pigs from a passenger flying in from Ecuador, where they are a delicacy).

The photographs were taken by Taryn Simon, a 35-year-old New York City Guggenheim fellow who spent five days and nights at John F. Kennedy International Airport. She set up a makeshift studio at inspection sites in Terminal 4 and shot pictures of 1,075 items taken from passengers and express mail. Simon negotiated for four months with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to get permission ahead of time.

She meticulously cataloged every item alphabetically for a 500-page book, called Contraband, which will be published this fall.

"You have people arriving from different cultures with the normal parts of their everyday life, and then these suddenly take on a wild identity under U.S. Customs," Simon said.

For my part, I will continue to be vigilant at airports, but I'm pretty sure Simon's gallery has satisfied my curiosity to ever peek inside any found bags. I'll grab a security guard first. I don't think anything could start a trip off on the wrong foot quite like catching sight of a dead Guinea pig.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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