"Dwelling: The Domestic as Portrait" and "The Harry Project"
My recent work has focused on the calculated choices people make in the objects they own. What do they care about? How do they allocate their resources? Their domestic decisions are both moral and aesthetic: what does one choose to own and how do they choose to display it? My photographs do not so much attempt to compare classes, or scrutinize one class, as simply attempt to represent identity through the lens of people's personal spaces. I ask the viewer to consider objects I have seen and selected, in the context of an unseen subject's material interests. Whether at one time purchased, received as a gift or inherited, things “shape the identities of their users. Man is … a reflection of things with which he interacts” (from Csikszentmihalyi's The Meaning of Things).
My passion for photographing the material interests of others is largely driven by the childhood experience of being psychologically stretched between the prodigal extravagance of my mother and the Puritan frugality of my father. In the Poetics of Space , Gaston Bachelard describes a viewer who is “‘reading a room' … and starts to think of some place in his own past”. Similarly, I see my explorations of other's dwellings as subjective interpretations. I photograph the things that hold signification for me, that resonate with my background, education and upbringing. The word “dwelling” denotes both a tangible physical structure, a home, as well as an internal process of lingering reflection. Thus, my photographs can be seen as both of others' dwellings and a dwelling on my own memories and past.
Beneath the surface, my work reflects a lack of faith in photography's ability to objectively portray an other. Roland Barthes, in Camera Lucida , suggests that photography has lost (or never had) the ability to convey authentic meaning. The inherent subjectivity of the artist leaves all interpretation, and thus content, in the hands of the photographer and the viewer. Inevitably, this “failure” of photography applies to my surrogate portraits as well, rendering the absence of an unseen subject not a truer portrait of an other, but perhaps merely a truer portrait of myself.
Prior to this project, I spent two years documenting the experience of becoming a parent and trying to capture the related emotional and physical challenges in still photographs. Titled The Harry Project (and named after my son Harry), I see this work as primarily documentary, while occasionally containing elements which are preconceived or staged. Ultimately, I hope this work, which is ongoing, will function as a self-critical examination of my own life and the world my son is growing up in. In this sense, the work serves as an autobiographical inquiry, with the pictures of my son and wife functioning as a surrogate portrait of myself.
- Robert Knight , 2006
Click on each image for larger version and caption.
Dwelling: The Domestic as Portrait
The Harry Project