Finding Subjects in Familiar Sights – by Chris Illing

It’s December the 23. 2018. Midnight. I’m standing in the bathroom of my parents house brushing my teeth. It felt like nothing had changed since my childhood. Everything as usual. I turn away from the sink to the bathtub. The same boiler, the same flagging, the same shower head. Since I can remember.

But suddenly something appears to be different. All at once, I perceive this situation differently. I turn around again. The green chair in the corner. Since always in the same place. Nothing extraordinary. But also here: All at once, this object so familiar with me appears interesting. What triggered this change in me?

I get my Mamiya 6, loaded with an expired Portra 400. Not the best film for interior shots in dim lighting conditions. Yet through the central shutter in the lens and the missing mirror of the rangefinder I manage to handhold 1/8s. What will the photos show me when they are developed?

In the next days I roam our house and the surrounding area. Searching unconsciously.
I’m successful: My parent’s bedroom. Here too – this standstill. The pictures on the wall, my mother’s alarm clock. Everything just as I saw it as a child.

My search continues. My father’s office. Entering the room is like a journey through time. The curtains, the beautiful mess, the electric typewriter that my father still uses from time to time. I notice that the desk has never been free. Since i can remember.

I find these places around our house, too. Places that remind me on my childhood. Because they have often changed little or not at all. Because they spark this feeling of familiarity in me.

The winter forest in which we played. The flood in front of our house or the tree into which we nailed our first tree house. Through photography I try to make this feeling tangible.

The finished images reflect these moments very well. The calm, the banal – but also: intimacy. What is left from growing up in your parents’ house? It seems to me that my parents’ house and the surroundings act as a mirror for myself, as a symbol for everything that has made us what we are now. Like a portal to my own adolescence.

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23 thoughts on “Finding Subjects in Familiar Sights – by Chris Illing”

  1. Lovely essay. So important to be open to seeing the familiar with fresh eyes. Particularly like the image of your parents’ bedroom.

  2. A fine article, Chris. Your kind of seeing and thinking stimulates my creative senses. We spend perhaps 95% of our lives in the same spaces, walking the same paths, seeing the same landscapes, the same interiors – so accepting the challenge to view them afresh is appreciated.

  3. Bang! I like this photo-essay SO much that I am sad that I didn’t make one when my parents were alive. Congrats on such a successful use of expired color film AND hand-held slow shutter! This is very beautiful.

    1. Wow! Thank you very much! This is touching me. And also I’m astounded myself by getting this slow shutter right 😀

  4. I’ve been similarly inspired by domestic settings, but here you’ve done great with capturing the melancholy of memories revisited. Well done.

  5. I rarely leave a reply even though I visit every day, but I just had too. I love your images. They turned out great and just ooze with all sorts of moodyness. They trigger memories for me too, but also remind me of reading Stephen King novels. Good work. Very inspiring!
    Keep it up!

    1. Puh! Thanks man! I don’t even know what to say. Other than I’m really happy that i could spark this feeling in you!
      Thanks for your kind words! 🙂

  6. I really like the interior shots, with their moodiness and melancholy. Even though they are created from life, it seems there is none there. Like memories.
    Far out man.

  7. A subject has to tell something. If you need to explain, it is not in the photo.
    These pictues may wake memories in you, but for the bystander they tell no story.

    1. Sorry but this is bullshit! Since when did image have to work without text?
      This pretentious view of photography is tiresome and not welcome here!

  8. Nice article and food for thought. Next time I visit Dad (we lost Mum in 2018) I’ll have some additional photos to shoot. Photos and memories the 2 are inextricable.

  9. Well written. Steiglitz called his photographs “equivalents” because the outcome that the image conveyed is equivalent to what he felt at the time of the exposure. But, of course, you knew that.

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