OBSERVATIONS VOL. 2, NO. 1 2017 OBSERVECOLLECTIVE.COM
REFLECTIONS ON HOME FROM MEMBERS OF OBSERVE COLLECTIVE
Every dayâ€™s an endless stream of cigarettes and magazines, And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories And every strangerâ€™s face I see reminds me that I long to be, Homeward bound. I wish I was, Homeward bound. SIMON & GARFUNKEL
To many people, home is the place where they grew up. Based on this definition, I’d have no home. Due to my father’s career, my family had to move to different cities frequently when I was a child. Each of my first five years of school took place in a different school—quite the annual change of environment, of friends and mentalities. Consequently, I was never really interested in the concept of “home,” because home was different every year. I still don’t believe that your place of residence defines where you belong. Instead, it is where people understand you. Friends and family obviously contribute to the notion of home, but also the online networks you establish. The way I perceived it, the term seemed to have been taken for granted for a long time. Maybe this is a German thing, but nobody ever really talked about “home.” It was simply there. Shapeless. All of a sudden, however, this word pops back into existence, jumping in your face from every corner. It is being debated left and right (politically speaking), loaded extensively with connotations and boiled in the heat of ideology, while at the same time society seeks to answer the questions: What is home? Who belongs to it? Who makes people leave their home and who gets to define “home” anyway? Hardly any other term has been inflated and even abused quite as much in German history. Still, with our world becoming increasingly complex and diverse, people seem to be looking for assurance on a smaller scope, some sort of personal sphere in which gravitation keeps things within their grasp. They long for an origin, for a solid base to stand on, for something that remains unquestioned at least for a short while. Therefore, many people cherish their past and want their lives to remain this way. Others may create something of their own, something new. There might well be people on a never-ending search, while others, like me, know their personal centre to be among those close to them. Although I don’t remember exactly where I got it from, I’d like to finish with a sentence I’ve read very recently. It states that home does not have to be the place you were born in, but maybe the place where you’d like to be buried.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRASIL
[This text was written sometime in 2014, while the author was on a dream trip that lasted one year, taking pictures with no agenda. It was edited down for this issue of Observations. The full text can be found at https://medium.com/@ marceloargolo/burning-down-the-house-195c952aa2d4.] A Brazilian poet named Mario Quintana once wrote that we should always go out to the street as if we were running away from home. It’s a poem called “The true art of traveling” (A verdadeira arte de viajar). In Portuguese, the word for “home” is the same as the word for “house”: casa. After the death of my father 15 years ago while I was living in New York City—and five years after the death of my mother—my sister and I had to decide what to do with the family apartment in which we had spent our childhood and adolescence. The house we grew up in. I still have the memory of our arrival— us running through an empty space, screaming with joy and pretending to be choosing our bedrooms. It wasn’t really that big, but for us children, it had the magnitude of a real house. Decades later, it would once again be an empty space. An extremely painful task that my sister, with the help of my brother-inlaw and a couple of friends, bravely went through. I was in New York, but to this day I wish I had been there, no matter how painful it would have been. I decided to use my share of the money from the sale on a photo project— which, to me, goes beyond Photography. But the initial reason I wrote all this was because I was in search of a metaphor. And I had figured that Mario Quintana’s poem would provide it. It certainly is a romantic one and it does make sense to me. I especially enjoy the true meaning of it, which resides in the fact that you don’t really need to leave your own country to travel. It is enough to just leave the house. And in that resides also the true meaning of this genre known as “Street Photography” (as shallow as it might be at times…). Regardless, I do feel like I’m doing exactly that: running away from home. I’m a little too old to be a runaway, but who cares… Fuck it.
In the end, though, the metaphor might not be as romantic and sweet as I had thought. Perhaps, what I’m really doing is burning down the house. Maybe something we should all do at some point, to burn down the house? Just burn the bitch down. Which reminds me of an old song from the Talking Heads, a band I loved so much in my teenage years. The one song that starts with: Watch out, you might get what you’re after And ends with: No visible means of support and you have not seen nothing yet Everything’s stuck together I don’t know what you expect staring into the TV set Fighting fire with fire
BREVARD, UNITED STATES
Home is more than the place we live. We can feel at home anywhere, with anyone, or with anything. I feel at home with a camera in my hand. Home can be a state of mind, a hug from a friend. Getting lost in our thoughts can give us a sense of feeling at home. In this time of war-weary diaspora fleeing their homes, home is a sense of peace, wherever it may be.
FADI BOUKARAM Beirut, Lebanon. This was home for most of my life. I grew up playing in this hallway with more than a dozen kids around the same age as me and my younger brother who all lived in the apartment building. 76 Paradise Road. But no one referred to it by its address. For some it was the ‘Phalanges building’, because the so-named right-wing Christian militia held an office in one of the apartments on the first floor, making it a constant bombing target during the war. For others it was the ‘Khodr Baroud building’, referring to its owner who, having only daughters and no sons, converted from Sunni to Shia Islam so his brother wouldn’t later inherit a third of the estate, as per complicated religious rules. The brother killed Khodr, the daughters fled to Brazil, and the building was left to squatters. Families, including my own, took up residence in the unoccupied apartments, most still living there over 40 years later. This hallway-playground was much bigger when I was a kid. It was much brighter too. A beautifully colored light used to pour through its gate, refracted by the dangling glass shards that thinned after each blast. And the walls weren’t as dull as they are now. The pockmarks from shrapnel holes gave room to many a game of imagining which shapes these now-patched-up holes resembled the most. The delusion of selective memory is blissful sometimes. What was never a delusion, though, was the hallway being a prison. Under no circumstance were we allowed to step outside the gate alone. But I always wanted to see ‘what’s over there’. I can’t recall anymore how many times I was punished by my mother when, after having promised to stay with the other kids in the corridor, as we called it, I would sneak out to explore ‘what’s over there’. The world was filled with ‘what’s over there’, and I spent much of my adult life trying to discover it, going in ever-widening circles, but always homing in on this apartment building and its corridor. I took this photo a few hours after coming back from the United States. For months I had been driving from one town to the next, all called Lebanon, all parallel universes to what my Lebanon is, revised versions of Paradise Road where light pours less beautifully because the glass is less broken and where walls have fewer stories to tell because they bear no shrapnel holes. Goethe is said to have said: “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” I can’t say I’m there yet, but I’m happy I’m close.
From Lebanon, North Dakota to Lebanon, South Dakota
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
A home is not a place but rather the people I love. As Tennessee Williams wrote so beautifully: “I don’t mean what other people mean when they speak of a home, because I don’t regard a home as a... well, as a place, a building... a house... of wood, bricks, stone. I think of a home as being a thing that two people have between them in which each can... well, nest.”
Suburban Tales This is my suburb where skeletons roam and dogs drive cars and ghosts call home This is my suburb with secrets to behold of hidden tales and whispers behind the fold This is my suburb where beasts come out to play where robots shock sparks and aliens abduct prey This is my suburb where shadows boast how to live and die by a swaying lamp post This is my suburb where walls have ears cracking the gossip from all the years This is my suburb where my camera can roam unearthing the quirks I call home
BALTIMORE, UNITED STATES
“Welcome Home” These are the words you hear as you enter Burning Man, as well as the regional events & festivals held throughout the country put on or contributed to by various camps. “Burner World,” as I call it, can be many things, but for me, it’s based in art & love. If enough people give more than they receive, as this surplus mixes like light & matter, magic is made. I try to meet up to this energy with my craft.
It is in this â€œhomeâ€? that I was able to learn many things. Just as my camera provided gifts for me to give, the participants, the art, and the scenery was a place for me to hone my skills 6, 10, 24 hours at a time. I learned how to be a shotmaker. I learned how to use flash proficiently in this home. I learned to prepare for whatâ€™s before me in the changing conditions & elements of each direction that I turned.
I learned how to be a candid street shooter in a place where consent is an honored principle. A skill that later transferred into a relatively quick freedom, a trust to shoot, and street cred within the Baltimore activist community. The work telling the tale of your intentions & who you are at your core. It is the place where, on one fateful â€œStarry Night,â€? I fell in love with light.
The great thing about this odyssey is that you find it in so many places. The 2nd week of April, in Santa Barbara, California, for this Baltimore boy, Lucidity was my Home.
Home is where the flow is and Iâ€™ve been blessed to share it with my partner as we became TLC Baltimore, an event photography team. Home is our playground and the camera is our flow toy, with which we dance, spin fire, and show our appreciation for our extended family.
A dog that travels a great distance to get home is likely trying to return to its owner, since the dog-human bond is a powerful one. Some suggest that, if the relationship between a dog and its owner is strong enough, the dog may be able to home in on it. Devoid of all sensory clues, they may actually find their way home based on some kind of telepathic connection, or sixth sense, that draws them to their owner. At the end of March 2017, I flew â€œhomeâ€? for a couple of weeks, back to the UK from Thailand. I went to see family, old friends and new ones. It had been a year since my last visit.
I stayed in my childhood home, together with my parents. It ended up being a nostalgic as well as emotional time. Walking around next to my primary and secondary schools, a stoneâ€™s throw away from my parentâ€™s house, memories of those years came flooding back: the walks to and from school, over the bridge and up the field, carrying my bag and lunchbox. Time is waiting for no one, but in my mind, it can be imagined again and again, as if it were only yesterday.
Unprompted by my school stories, my father randomly discovered his university graduation photos. This was maybe the second time in my life that I’d seen a photo of him that was taken before he met my mom. We looked similar, I thought. He turned 80 last year and, although he’s lost sight in one of his eyes, he’s still active, occasionally taking my mom out for dinner, organising yearly cruise ship holidays for them both, and pottering about the house annoying her.
Whilst back, I spent a weekend visiting Edinburgh and seeing photographer friends I had met briefly there a few years before. That Sunday we drove out of the city and had lunch next to a beautiful lake. An older couple sitting opposite us reminded me of my parents and their silence when they go out for meals together, eating and drinking with little conversation. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s last year, and seeing her again was wonderful yet painful. Knowing that her mind is deteriorating from this disease is a horrible thought.
I also spent time with my sisters and their families, catching up with their lives and seeing how fast the next generation of nieces and nephews were growing. So much changes when youâ€™re apart and yet some things always stay the same. Living away from family and friends as the years roll by is toughâ€”as we know, time waits for no one and age creeps up on all of us.
BOSTON, UNITED STATES
I’m not from Boston, but I found my home here. I’ve lived in Boston longer than I’ve lived anywhere, and in many ways I grew up here. I met my closest friends here, met my wife here, and raised my children here. I don’t know if I will die here, but, wherever I am, Boston will always be my home. While Boston isn’t the most diverse city in the country, to a middle-class kid from a white, New Jersey suburb, the city’s different perspectives, values, religions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities all seemed pretty colorful. When I say I grew up here, I mean my world opened up and, subsequently, my mind. There’s an intellectual spirit in Boston that sets it apart. Viewpoints are respectfully considered, discussed, and debated. Education, as evidenced by the more than 50 colleges and universities, is valued and shared. Cerebral as it is, Boston also has soul. It has personality, history, grace, and pride; it has flaws and scars. Boston is small—it’s easy to get around, which is convenient when photographing. But it’s not easy to photograph. Unlike the currents of people coursing through larger cities like New York City or Tokyo, people move through Boston in drips and drizzles. People either walk alone or in small groups, making discreet photography a challenge. I find Bostonians to be private, cautious, and guarded, so it takes a particular mindset when photographing here, requiring patience and a willingness to work at a slower pace. Boston moments worth photographing are rarely grand or flamboyant, but rather subtle and reflective. Much like the city itself. Like any complex relationship, Boston takes time and effort to settle into.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA
Cambridge City Dance Party Cambridge, MA
Memorial Day Medford, MA
Pride Parade Boston, MA
Womanâ€™s March Boston, MA
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES
Where Brooklyn at? Or any of New York City? Outside, of course, on its teeming grids. This city invites you to feel most at home out wandering. Or in transit. Or around the corner at your favorite cafe. The tiny apartment you find yourself in is less a sanctuary than a ticket booth, offering admission to the show. Even when looking inward and not open to the rush of the wide world, a New Yorker is still most at home out there in the mix, taking cover in the wellworn grooves of a familiar route, a jaded look neutering unwelcome surprises and encroachments the way a zealous homemaker sweeps assorted detritus off of the threshold. From time to time, Iâ€™ve seen the city itself shrink down to envelop one of its own in a motherly gesture, offering a brief eye of respite in the slow-motion hurricane of urban hubbub. If it comes, take it. Breathe deeply and continue on your way.
I’m a voyeur. I love to observe people, peer into their lives and catch a snapshot of who they are. But, as much as I love it, I also know it can be a superficial exercise. I see people for a moment or two and then they’re gone forever, while I move on to the next. My trip to Mardi Gras seemed that it would inevitably be about these fleeting moments. I’d been once before, in 2011, and Bourbon Street was a teeming mass of drunk revelry. The parade routes were explosions of colour and sound, and overwhelming crowds of people. Rich hunting grounds for a street photographer, no doubt. I would be a stranger, wrapped in the sweaty, boisterous embrace of thousands of other strangers. It didn’t disappoint. Just as it had done six years previous, New Orleans delivered a veritable buffet of people-watching, streaming in front of my camera lens for four days straight, interrupted by little apart from my need to sleep and eat. Fat Tuesday, though, was different. A friend got a hot tip, and we were directed to a hole-in-the-wall bar in Faubourg Delassize—most definitely off the parade route—to witness the ceremonial rituals of the Mardi Gras Indians. Mardi Gras Indians have been a New Orleans tradition since at least the 1880s, and the city has roughly 40 active tribes. Their origins are not well documented, but members of the Wild Magnolias tribe attest that their ritual is an act of deep historical appreciation for indigenous peoples who sheltered escaped slaves in the Louisiana bayous. They gathered at Sportsman’s Corner to put on their elaborate costumes. Each member played a role with solemn purpose, never breaking character over the course of the four hours I spent watching and following them. They danced, sang to the beat of heavy drums, and engaged in a long session of call and response in a distinct patois that I could barely understand. And then they set out on a long march, walking four miles in costumes weighing as much
as 100 pounds. They sang and chanted their way through neighbourhoods, across the paths of more touristic parades, and even, fearlessly, over a long elevated freeway past the Superdome. I came for a spectacle, and it was definitely that. But, it also felt that I was being permitted to witness something very personal and private, and deeply rooted in that place. There was a gravity to their long march from Uptown to Downtown that said to me: â€œthis is our home, and we are proud of who we are.â€? I choked back a few tears as the Wild Magnolias held up traffic, danced and sang their way across that overpass. It felt like home, even if it wasnâ€™t mine.
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Kommunalka To be honest, when I think about what the word “home” means to me, it raises more questions than answers. It’s said that one must have a home. But what does that really mean? A place one returns to in the evening? A house one owns? In Russian, the words for “home” and “house” are the same. Should the word be reserved for an ancestral nest? Or, maybe all this is no more than dust and we all have only one real home – in Heaven? I’m used to calling any place where I return more or less regularly for some period of time my home. Maybe it’s because I never really had my own home. I don’t remember the place where I lived during my early childhood. It exists only in family legend for me. Same with the apartment our family moved to when I was three. When I was 30, I even tried to find it, wondering if I’d feel something special about the place or not. Of course, I felt nothing. So the first place that I could really call my home would have been our one-room flat on Gamarnika street in Khabarovsk, where we lived for several years—my mother, my stepfather, my little brother, and me. And, as an added note of domesticity, with our dog. My brother was a little baby and his highwalled crib was planted in the middle of the room, dominating it. I slept on a camp bed that would turn into an airplane when I closed my eyes. In Khabarovsk, there is another place that I called my home for the longest stretch of my life. This flat had three rooms, so my grandfather moved in too. When he passed away, my brother took his room and I finally got my own. Though it’s not a place I could return to anymore—neither the flat nor that city—a part of me is still closely connected with it. I lived there a long time, dreamt many a dream there. Most of my books are still there, evidence of my interests and passions. But as I don’t live there, this faraway place cannot be my home.
When I lived in Vladivostok, I lived in a different place every six months. It’s only since I moved to Saint-Petersburg, where I’ve spent the last five and a half years in the same place, that I have found my home. But this is a very special kind of home—a communal apartment, or, in Russian, kommunalka. Kommunalka seems to be a specifically Russian or, more precisely, post-Soviet phenomenon, so allow me to explain. There were prototypes of communal apartments even in the 19th century, but most of them appeared after the 1917 Revolution, as well as the word itself. Bolsheviks used to seize big apartments from their owners and let poor people who didn’t have their own home live in their many rooms. This was called “compaction.” They ordered prosperous owners of such flats to “make room,” literally, for others. Afterwards, the government denied their rights and took everything. They could be sent to Kolyma or even executed. In the ‘50s—after Stalin’s death—the policy changed and the government agreed that the process of “compaction” had outlived its usefulness and that each citizen must now have his own home. But even now Saint-Petersburg still remains the capital of kommunalka. According to a 2011 survey, there were 660,000 people living in 105,000 communal apartments. Living in a kommunalka has two advantages. First of all, the affordable rent. Secondly, all kommunalkas are situated in the center of the city, so you can walk everywhere by foot and you don’t need to use the metro every day. And, of course, there are several disadvantages. There can be any number of rooms in a communal apartment, from three to 13. Ours has 11 rooms, so it’s a rather large one. Yet we only have one bathroom and WC. So you can imagine what happens in the morning when everybody wakes up and prepares to start their day, or in the evening when the entire kommunalka wants to take a shower before going to bed. We also have our share of characters, such as this elderly lady who won’t use the toilet during the day, storing all her waste in a bucket in her room instead. A few times a day, she proudly marches the bucket through the corridor and empties it in the loo, rendering it pretty much impassable for a good half hour afterwards. There’s more to worry about than just bathroom turf wars. When you live under one roof with strangers, conflicts are inevitable. Our apartment is relatively quiet, no aggressive alcoholics or anything. But sometimes real crimes happen in these apartments. In 2015, one notorious kommunalka saw an entire family, including a seven-year-old boy, murdered for the crime of turning off fuses in the electric meter. Of course, much has been written about communal apartments and a lot of photographers have done work about them too. I had no intention of adding one more series to what’s already been done, until I happened to notice a lieutenant coat hanging on a rope in the bathroom one day. I liked the simple idea of showing life in a kommunalka through the washed clothes and linen hanging nightly. With so many residents, the tableau changes regularly, so each evening is a shuffling of the line, and a new person on display.
TAVEPONG PRATOOMWONG My present home is not my birthplace. My original home was in the east side of Thailand adjacent to the sea: Chantaburi. Now that I’m living in Bangkok, I don’t often return to that town. I moved here—Nuanchan street, Khannayao district—to study in the university. There are many universities in other provinces but most Thai students prefer to study in Bangkok. I lived with my uncle first. He bought a house in Nuanchan street back when there were only rice farms. Khannayao district is actually named after the long earthen dyke stretching through a local farm. After I graduated and found work, my family decided to buy a house in the same village as my uncle. The city having grown toward the outer territory, farming is no more. Rather, you see buildings, housing, and shopping malls. Even the popular “Chocolate Ville,” not only a restaurant but practically its own theme park. In 2014, I began to shooting street photography. I took photos every day for the 365 project. I would park at a temple near my house and started wandering around, so I ended up learning more and more of my new hometown. If I had not become a street photographer, there are so many interesting places I would likely know nothing about. There is a village nearby built for military families. Most of the time it is peaceful and boring like most smaller places in Bangkok. But during a festival such as Songkran (Thai New Year), the whole town wakes up in a very exciting way. There are many hidden things to discover under the dull atmosphere of Nuanchan–Khannayao.
Sometimes you may feel that home is nowhereâ€¦ But there is always a home for everyone. Just look for it!
Maybe a shelter where you are under protection.
Maybe where all the people who love you are with you.
Even if you are all alone, your search for a home should never end.
Your home is maybe where you seek happiness and where you hope to build a future for you and your love.
Or home is the road and wherever it leads.
However, when it is time, you will find out that that home is your past, your whole life.
Sometimes you may feel that home is nowhereâ€Ś But you always know deep down: home is now here, it is always where you are.
ÂŠ 2017 Observe Collective All images in this issue are the property of the respective photographer and cannot be reproduced without the express consent of the copyright holder. No part of this magazine may be used in part or in full without the express written permission of Observe Collective.