What does ‘Home’ mean and can its meaning be captured by photography?
I wrote about my initial planning here having refined down several ideas I had into one topic – notions of ‘home’ as place and the attachment people feel to it. My continuing interest in this over several years had been increased by the ongoing Brexit debate since 2016 and my viewing of Hrair Sarkissian’s Exhibition “Homesick” at the Brighton Biennial last year had heightened this for me. Interestingly, having researched Michael Iwanowski’s work “Go Home Polish” recently, has confirmed my earlier thinking that it would be a very relevant topic to have as the subject of my Critical Review.
It was difficult, to begin with, to find the words to express notions of ‘home’. Use of the word ‘hiraeth’ has such emotive connotations – even the sound of it is like a sigh. I think it’s a word to be used with care otherwise it will become too generalized. I’m also aware that I stepped carefully around the way in which identity is linked with home, society and culture. That would have been a very large topic to tackle – likely a book – and maybe why, as Edward Relph commented, not much has been written specifically about home and place. In fact, thinking about it now, that would probably be a chapter in the book .
I wanted to know more about attachment; attachment to place so, first I went right back to the beginning and the connections that early human beings felt towards Earth and their place on it. Reading about the “Overview Effect” was very interesting giving me some insight into some possible aspects of the Sublime . I also read Martin Heidegger’s work Being and Time (1927) and his thoughts on different modes of Being and what does ‘to exist’ mean. This was in an effort to put myself into an awareness (rather than a considered analysis) of what is happening when I feel ‘at home’ – how am I feeling, what do my senses tell me? I realise now, having written it down, that I carried this awareness into researching the photographers’ work so that I was sensitized to the experience of home life being destroyed. I began to feel depressed at the thought that human beings haven’t changed much, despite all the knowledge and technology available at their fingertips.
I’m not religious in the accepted sense of the world so was unsure about referring to the work of Mircae Eliade on Religion. It made me wonder whether the religious beliefs about sanctity of home were stepping into a natural inclination for people to want to settle together; to nurture and protect themselves and their families. All the examples Eliade provides prove his point, he doesn’t look for contradictions. I was also struck by a reminder that religious beliefs and practices have so very often been the cause of violence and destruction.
If I was doing it again? Literary references of course with their facility to evoke emotional responses and invite empathy – a few of these are mentioned in my research notes. I had quite a few other photographers in my ‘research box’ including Krasimira Butseva and Shimon Attie. For her project Balkan Ours ( 2018) Butseva used red conversions on idyllic present-day landscapes to indicate the violence committed in the past by the historical communist regime in her country, Bulgaria (still an unspoken theme). In his work The Writing on the Wall (1991-2) Attie visually simulated long destroyed Jewish community life by projecting portions of photographs onto the same or nearby addresses where the photographs were originally taken in Berlin sixty years before. There has also recently been comment regarding the forgotten mass destruction of homes during “Kristallnacht” – the events between November 9 and 10, 1938 when violence attacks were made on Jewish communities across Germany.
During the course of my research I contacted Sarah-Jane Field, Dragana Jurisic, Hrair Sarkissian and Michael Iwanowski to explain my project and ask for permission to use their images in my essay. All of them responded very quickly to agree. Daniel Blaufuks does not have images on his website; however I do have the book and copied images from that.
There was a fairly large proportion of research I did that doesn’t appear in the Assignment itself but directed my understanding and thinking. I wished the wordcount was larger so that I could write about more photographic responses. Being without a home has so many aspects and people become homeless in so many different ways and there is no way that I would want to discount all those experiences. However, with the wordcount in mind I focussed on the polarities of what home is and what happens when home life is destroyed – the chaos and fragmentation.
I think I have established what ‘home’ means by exploring generally accepted notions. So far as my second query is concerned – can its meaning be captured by photography? I could have provided more concrete examples such as documentary series on different types of communities and how these meet their inhabitants’ beliefs about the meaning of home. However, I was more interested in exploring conceptual responses to the topic.
The Assignment brief asks for it to be critical rather than narrative. I have certainly discussed and compared theories. The biographical and historical information has been important in terms of the connections between the photographers and their subjects.