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  • Beky

The Dad Project : Piles Of Dust

Named after the notion that my dad generates piles of various belongings which he refuses to organise or discard (and thus, exists to gather dust), Piles Of Dust is a photographic exploration of my relationship with my home and my father who owns it. The series documents both shared and individual personal struggles between myself and my dad; touching on grief, hoarding and anxiety. This series utilises photography as a form of therapy and explores how art can serve as a therapeutic outlet for creators like myself, by way of acknowledging the problem in order to tackle it.

It's quite poetic how my dad's encouragement for me to sign up to a photography degree three years ago has been completed by turning my camera towards him. It was difficult to set myself the challenge of photographing such a personal problem, building up the narrative while not offending or embarrass my dad (along with myself and my older brother who still live with him in this house) and taking beautifully abstracted images of a less than pleasant situation.

My aim with this project was not to "expose" my dad as popular media culture entertains itself doing so often today, but to help myself deal with the anxiety of things being scattered around the house, making areas and one whole room redundant. While this process of image making for myself as the photographer was therapeutic as I was seeking for the stillness around the house, focusing on an abstract and minimal composition, the broader process of defining the project also led to me researching more severe hoarders, watching documentaries and reading articles to understand those like my dad who seem to be at peace surrounded by things and while it did educate me on why this collecting process happens and taught me methods to help my dad deal with the clutter in more productive ways, it taught me patience most of all with him.

I view this project as a collaboration with my dad, Stephen, rather than taking photographs of him. We worked together to present half of the images from the series in exhibition at Dig Brew Co, from arranging the cluster of images, mounting them onto various wooden boards (hard wood, chip board and composite wood) to hanging them together at the location before re-visiting the show at the private view and on another occasion with friends and family. I presented these images as a cluster of different size prints on different thicknesses of wooden boards to emulate the disorganisation of the subject matter I was photographing.

I also had the photographs and it's accompanying text printed in newspaper format for my university hand in deadline, turning the story of my dad's hoarding into one of the main components of the hoard itself - I still haven't caught him reading a newspaper, but many more have been brought home. Writing down conversations with him and even asking direct questions helped me to narrate the images, contextualising the photographs taken from my point of view in his own words and giving him this opportunity to explain his own point of view.

The narrative behind the project (both that which is presented through my dad's own words and that which remains concealed in reality) is a dark and personal matter, which is reflected in the largely dark colour palette with subdued cool and warm tones across each individual image. The abstract compositions are inspired by the works of Briony Campbell's own Dad Project wherein she used photography as her own method of therapy to help her come to terms with her father's terminal cancer diagnosis, and eventually his death. Her images, while documenting a much darker and emotive subject matter offer a much brighter colour tone, offer a peaceful acceptance of "the end" and a beautiful farewell homage to her father's last memory.

Other notable inspirations for this project are Julian Germain: For Every Minute You Are Angry, You Lose Sixty Seconds Of Happiness, in which he documents "the quiet, contemplative existence of Charles Snelling." I was most influenced in the ways in which he composed Snelling’s belongings in this series as it was a similar theme to what I was exploring with my dad, his combination of close ups and wide angles was effective and built up a sense of the man even without images of him in them, the more vibrant colour palette across the images reflect the positive depiction of an optimistic man. As well as Leonie Hampton: In The Shadow Of Things, in which she documented the process of her family helping her mother organising her home which had become hoarded as Hampton's mother's OCD refrained her from being able to tackle such a large task in a "certain impossible way". While my own photographic project didn't end in a tidier result like Hampton's, the process of documenting the problem shared a similar catharsis to that which Hampton described in an article with Time;

"To open the door into that personal, protected world is therapeutic. It's helping us change, let go and find a direction we want to go in. It is good that something creative exists out of an experience that at times is destructive and negative but at other times is full of tenderness."


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