We need to talk about Swanage…


This week, my friend Simon and I met up to have a pint and look at some of the work we have done so far with the Swanage project. This is a project contrasting the place between the summer (where it is packed with tourists) and winter (where it returns to being primarily a local community). This year we have been quite loose in our aims and have been mindful of the mass of work that has been done before about the British at the seaside. Martin Parr, Tony Ray Jones are two giants in this area.

Swanage is a great location in that it seems psychologically cut-off from the area around it, it has a feel that you are stepping into another place and another time. The town has a traditional seaside feel to it (where people use crabbing buckets, eat lots of fish and chips (very nice by the way!) etc. In the summer it is awash with people, and I can imagine that people would return to the place on several occasions over the years. It has that kind of quaint feel to it.

In the winter, the place seems to take on a different and darker character. The place feels more local, but it also feels more threatening and less welcome. This feeling might be ‘you had the place in the summer, but it’s ours now’. Growing up in Cornwall, I remember experiencing a similar feeling when the emmets (holiday makers) have gone back home. This contrast is really interesting, and certainly something that we want to thread into our work!

Taking a “let’s see what will emerge from the trips stance” has been an interesting approach. We are getting a body of work together now, and are starting to pull out some themes to organise how we think about the town. Contrast and colour have been dominant, but also how differently we both look at the town. Simon, it turns out, steps in closer than me. He is good at isolating the subject and creating a strong feeling of emotion in his work. My style is more about bringing the environment into the imagery. I tend to create less of an emotional closeness, but a more distant and reflective stance. That can only be a good thing, as we can invite the viewer to think in different ways.

However, we are still at a point using this approach where we are thinking “what is this project about?” and “what actually are we trying to say here?” We are getting a little clearer, but I still don’t think we have really got to grips with what the project is about. So far, it’s been a lot of fun, which is great. But, in terms of photography and saying something, there is a long way to go…

What does home mean to you?

I have started to develop ideas for a new project called ‘Home’.

Home is a space located in time, which has strong emotional meanings. For most of us, home is a place of physical and psychological safety. But, for others, it may be a place of threat (such as living within a domestic violence relationship) or prison-like isolation (like being old, with ill-health).

Home is a universal human experience, in my view. It may be a permanent home, such as the houses that we live in typically. Or something more transient, such as those of nomadic or travelling people’s. We might fill our home with many possessions, or it may just be the bag that we carry on our back. Even if a person lives their day-to-day life in a nomadic way, I expect that in their mind they have a prior experience of home, and what it means to them.

The home can be a place where complex life stories play out. A home can be a mansion set within a private country park, or a shop doorway for a night. A home is not just a physical space, but it is a psychological space. It’s a boundary between what’s ‘out there’ and whats ‘in here’. The obvious starting point of this boundary, is that it divides ‘safe’ from ‘unsafe’. In the world of the ‘in here’ complex life stories, emotions and dramas can play out. These may be family stories, but they may also be individual stories.

People can spend a lot of time, effort and money on making their home very personal and meaningful to them. They might take a house and recreate it in their own way to become a home that feels uniquely theirs, that says something about them and the way they like to live their lives (whether they know this or not).

Leaving and returning home (‘crossing the boundary’) can be an emotional experience. Someone returning home after a long period of separation may be confronted with memories of prior experiences, particularly upon the nature of their last leaving. One person may have left to excitedly travel and explore the world, returning home to tell tales about their adventures. Another person may have left suddenly breaking connections with their family,  returning years later to mark the passing of a family member. Their return may be marked by more complex feelings of loss, unresolved anger, guilt and sadness over the lack of ability to repair a broken relationship, or even to simply say goodbye and have some form of ‘closure’.

Sometimes, we might invite people into our home as guests, other times we might not. Some homes have little in the way of protecting the space, whilst other homes might have security systems, guards, etc. to keep unwanted people out. When a burglary happens, people can feel unsafe, frightened, violated and angry.

What I would like to do in this project is to create photographs that explore some of the ideas that help us to understand what ‘home’ might mean for us and others. Everyone has a unique and individual understanding of home, but those meanings are built from ideas that circulate in our society about what a home ‘should’ be. What I would like to do is create images that connect contemporary meanings of home, with the individual perspective of the viewer of the images.

If anyone reading this has any thoughts on what home means to them, I would be really interested in your views…