When growing up, it’s often common to think of your parents’ house as “Home.” Somewhere you can always go back to, somewhere that should always be a safe place. My mother’s house was that for me as much as I was able to have that, and over the years I’ve been in and out of that house so many times, living there as well as just visiting. And through it all I’ve had my camera(s) with me, documenting the process. When I was young I remember looking through picture albums with one of my parents and them telling me stories or just reminiscing about certain events. I find that in my own life, the more I photograph something the better I can remember it later, whether it’s a space, a time, or an event: my friends’ houses, getting together for barbeques and whisky tastings, my bedrooms over the years, birthday parties, my times in COVID quarantine, and yes, my mother and her house. Over the years these all provided good fodder for my cameras.
And whatever cameras I accumulated over the years, those eventually found their way Home at some point, and if I didn’t end up using them anymore they ended up in a closet or later in my mom’s garage, until I brought them down to sell them all at my local camera store. I was forced into this more than anything else, due to a lack of space, and because my mom’s house ceased to be Home after she died a little over a year ago–my brother and I couldn’t make the numbers work to keep it.
The last few months I was there are what I’ll most remember now: spending my birthday looking for my mother’s will and breaking the bad news to her upstairs renters, living there alone while we figured out what we could do with the place or preparing to sell it, sleeping in her bed, watching movies on her TV, all the categorizing, cleanup, etc. In a sense these aren’t really the memories I wanted to keep but they’re what I have, and perhaps the biggest part of that are the pictures I took while I was there.
My mother succumbed to COVID very quickly after she contracted it; ironic considering how much she complained about the ridiculousness of the whole situation over the last two years. From cancelling Thanksgiving dinner to going to the hospital to the confused information my family got from that, to seeing her for the last time, to putting her under sedation to try intubation, to pulling the plug: less than two weeks. I don’t have any hospital pictures and don’t miss not having them, but as soon as I was at her house for the first time in months the pictures started coming.
From the way that she left the house to the places that I spend the most time in, to the view that I always had whenever I sat on the couch: all the times I was alone there. And then there were all the people that helped my brother’s and my collective family during that time, all my boxes that were stored in her garage, the grand moving day, and all the empty space after most of the furniture was gone and the house was ready to put on the market, and the times during the Winter when it snowed and I had to shovel the driveway, just walking around the place during blizzards trying to capture the perfect snow pictures of the house. That stuff is all there but when I go back through the pictures there were more mundane things in the moment, evocative of a longer time spent in that particular place:
The way I’d use the folding bathroom mirror to cut my hair and look from different angles. The way that I’d bake something in the oven and there was always that one spot where the condensation would accumulate and then drip off the door when I opened it–I tried to take a picture of that and it was the one time that it didn’t happen. And the boxes of tea that she got me that last Christmas, that I really didn’t want so I left them behind and then when I was up there I used them all up in a few months. The spots in her shower that for some reason in 2009 reminded me of Åse from Peer Gynt–I told her to never clear that off and she never did. I’d forgotten about those instances sometime after I took the pictures but finding them again brings it all flooding back.
I went back through my photo archive to find the last picture I took of my mom and it was a full five months before her death, part of her birthday celebrations where my brother, our friend and I took her ziplining. I suppose that I thought (as we all do in the moment) that there will always be plenty of time to take pictures later, another time. If you’re reading this, maybe rethink that. Tell your parents you love them, take their pictures, make something you’ll be proud to hold onto. I made sure to do that with her house to capture as much of her imbued spirit as I could, because I missed my last chance with her while she was alive. After all is said and done all that will be left behind us will be the pictures, and the memories associated with them. And that’s what I will remember about what used to be Home.
Technical notes: I have many cameras, the ones I’m using at the moment are featured here: Nikon F2 (unmetered), Nikon F2A, Nikon F Apollo (unmetered) (plus a couple minor ones thrown in: Minolta SRT-MCII, Canon AF35MII). Primary lens was an AI’d Nikkor K-series 35mm f/1.4, with a little bit of AI’d Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4 and AI-s Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 (plus the Minolta MD 50mm f/1.4 for one shot). I shot a few different film stocks around that time: Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford XP2 Super, Ilford HP5+, Kodak T-Max P3200, expired Kodak BW400CN. Scanned/finished by myself using the Pakon F335 and Affinity Photo.
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