A portrait of a man

I have always been drawn to the idea of making a portrait of someone by photographing the things they choose to surround themselves with. I think that our ‘stuff’ has a lot to say about us. Our houses, our posessions and even the way we display things are all like little clues which reveal something about our personalities, our preferences and the way we like to live.

My grandfather is an actor who has had a successful and varied career. He lives alone in London in a beautiful Georgian house. It is a house full to the brim of objects (many of great value) which he has accumulated throughout his life; acquisitions he has made, things he has inherited. He is an eccentric certainly, and a horder; a collector who loves beautiful things. Messy, maybe, but absolutely meticulous. Visitors have to carefully negotiate neat piles of papers, documents, ornaments, nik naks and bits and pieces which perch precariously – everywhere there is surface – on tables and chairs, and scattered across the living room floor. Things surround him constantly – he likes to have it all ‘to hand’. Every object is cherished and important to him; he keenly relates the story of each sculpture, or painting, or piece of random kitchen paraphernalia with equal passion. I love to hear these stories they are so compelling; like extra clues which unlock secrets of his past, and in turn, of mine.

His house is a treasure trove – a true Aladdin’s cave, and I love to visit and just look around. There is always something fascinating and new to discover. (some people would call me nosey – I like to say curious!) His environment communicates so much about him as a person. It’s almost like it’s alive with his being. Every time I visit he seems to have shrunk a bit more; he looks smaller and smaller sitting there in his armchair amongst all the piles and the abundance of things. I guess one day eventually the house will swallow him up completely.

It’s funny because I would say I usually tend towards being the kind of person who gets a bit stressed out by too much mess, but I absolutely love his mess. I feel at home amongst it. (You may be forgiven for thinking we are very close – we are not, as it happens, but though there is emotional distance there is respect, and, of course a resonant familial connection).

These images were taken the last time I was there in November. They were some snapshots I made in the fading afternoon night of a cold winter’s day (I had an idea to test out some images and think about making a project of it at a later date). Everything was where it was (I didn’t place anything – I didn’t need to) and everywhere you looked there was a great photograph to be made. His house has vast, beautifully restored Georgian windows and when the light floods in the whole interior just reveals itself to you – it is just beautiful.

© Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2012

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9 Comments on “A portrait of a man

  1. I agree, a portrait can be made this way, and it really captures the history of the man. Excellent post!

  2. Great post! Odd, as I was just thinking these thoughts the other day..especially at times when we are losing people from our lives, suddenly everything in their home has a meaning, from little notes they have written, to the glasses that are held on their nose, the cup they use..all possessions take on character and meaning I think..you’ve represented this really well!

  3. Thank you settleandchase! Just checked out your site I love it. Will take a proper look later when the kids are in bed. It’s so inspiring ‘meeting’ other bloggers!

  4. My grandfather, who just passed away a couple of months ago, left such an “Aladdin’s Cave” (thank you for that perfect imagery!). There are a few historians scouring the contents, but I’ve been lucky to have been handed a number of books from his collection. I too get nervous around clutter, though his clutter never made me feel that nervous at all.

    Beautiful site. Beautiful images. Beautiful writing! xoxo

  5. These pictures do tell a fascinating story. But have you posted a portrait of your grandfather, showing his face? It seems to me that that would make the picture so much fuller.

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