Can you give a brief introduction to this series and tell us the motivation behind it?
I began this project as a way of coming to terms with the death of my maternal grandfather, Jim. He was the first relative that I had lost where I was old enough to comprehend what had actually happened.
I grew up in France, and he lived in the South of England, so we didn’t spend that much time together and I felt a bizarre kind of guilt after he passed, that I had not made enough of an effort to get to know him.
I wanted to find out as much about his life as possible, and visit all the places he had ever lived in or been to
So my initial reaction was that I wanted and needed to find out as much about his life as possible, and visit all the places he had ever lived in or been to. That proved to be quite difficult; he was in the RAF so he travelled a lot and had to move every two years around the UK, to France, Canada, the Bahamas, Lebanon and Cyprus.
I ended up doing the project in Southampton, where he lived for most of his life with my Nanna, and in Scotland, where he was from. My mum was present for most of the project, so I think it was as cathartic for her as it was for me.
It can be difficult to approach a familiar place with fresh eyes. What was your experience of photographing somewhere with such a strong personal connection? Was it a therapeutic process for you?
At first, I wanted to photograph the house that my grandparents lived in because I knew someday I would not be able to. I wanted to have tangible memories of it. But the process of walking around the house and actually, really looking at what was in front of me was very therapeutic.
I noticed things I had never seen before. It felt like a very calm process, almost an introspective one
I noticed things that I had never seen before. It felt like a very calm process, almost an introspective one, as I could feel all the childhood memories I had in that house gradually rush back. My Nanna passed a few years after my grandad, and their house was eventually sold, so the pictures that I took hold a very strong sentimental value for me.
Before doing this project, how much did you know about your grandad, and his life before you were born?
I didn’t know much about his life at all. I guess I knew its brief outlines. I only ever saw him twice a year or so, and we didn’t have the kind of relationship where we talked openly about his past.Array
I remember he had a blurry tattoo of an eagle or bird on his forearm, and when my brother and I were very young, whenever we’d ask him what it was or how he got it, he’d tell us, and show us, how he reached up into the sky, grabbed a bird and squashed it on his arm. Everything was either always blurred with humour or very vague.
Are you able to select one photo from the series and tell us the story behind it?
The one of the dining table taken from above I find quite painful to look at. My Nanna suffered from dementia, even before my grandad died, and after he passed, she thought he was still alive, and did so until she passed too.
We decided as a family to not keep reminding her Jim had died – so when she set the table to eat, she always set a place for Jim
We had decided as a family to not keep reminding her that Jim had died, and just run with whatever thoughts she had on any particular day.
Sometimes she thought he was out shopping; sometimes she thought he was waiting in a white van that was always parked outside the house; sometimes she even thought he was just watching football in the living room. So when she set the table to eat, she always set a place for Jim.
What subjects or themes are you generally drawn to in your work?
I’ve been really analysing why I do the work that I do recently, because I sometimes feel that some projects don’t exactly fit in with the rest. But they do! I’d say the recurring themes are ones of absence, loss, intimacy, balance.