Home – A Photographic Exploration of Immigration and the Meaning of Home

Home canvas web

Working with people who have moved to Scotland from elsewhere, I have undertaken a research-based photographic exploration of the concept of home. The participants come from a wide range of backgrounds and from a variety of countries including Peru, Afghanistan, Slovakia, Italy, Lithuania, the USA and Somalia. With so much negative media attention surrounding the issue of immigration, not only in the UK but also around the world, this project is an attempt to counteract this harmful rhetoric and celebrate the diversity that immigration creates. While the objects photographed are specific to individuals, the body of work as a whole demonstrates the universality of some of the main indicators of home, with family, friendship and culture at the forefront. While the specifics may change, there is a commonality in the things that we as human beings hold dear.

This project was conceived for my main Creative Project for the Honours year of my degree in Photography. I chose to focus on some of the areas that interest me most – home, people’s relationship with space and their environment, equality and social anthropology. Although at times very challenging, this project has been interesting, fulfilling and enjoyable to work on. Given that the work was carried out for my Honours year project, the timescale was rather small in comparison to how long I would ideally have liked to have had to complete it. Following the initial group research I carried out, I had time to complete the process of interviewing and photographing portraits and the homes of seven participants. This project is something that I feel could be continued in the future, given the time and opportunity to meet with more immigrants to Scotland. It would also be interesting to work with people who are not immigrants, to see how things compare. Not coming from a background in research myself, it would also be really interesting to work with a researcher on a joint project, either continuing this one or doing something new but in a similar vein.

In terms of inspiration for this project, my two main influences were James Mollison and Rineke Dijkstra. James Mollison’s series ‘Where Children Sleep’ was particularly of interest to me:

Copyright James Mollison
Copyright James Mollison

(from artist’s website) “Where Children Sleep – stories of diverse children around the world, told through portraits and pictures of their bedrooms. When Fabrica asked me to come up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, I found myself thinking about my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was. It occurred to me that a way to address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting children would be to look at the bedrooms of children in all kinds of different circumstances. From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations. It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves, too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background. My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances ‘ the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other ‘ while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals ‘ just as children. This is a selection from the 56 diptychs in the book (Chris Boot November 2010). The book is written and presented for an audience of 9-13 year olds ‘ intended to interest and engage children in the details of the lives of other children around the world, and the social issues affecting them, while also being a serious photographic essay for an adult audience.”

I normally prefer to incorporate the environment into my portraits, but on this occasion I decided to work in the studio, partly as a challenge, and partly because I felt that this approach suited the project. Taking my inspiration from James Mollison’s use of a neutral background, I employed a similar approach in order to demonstrate the universal connections between all of us as human beings, while showing the differences through the images symbolising peoples’ sense of home. Of course, universal elements are evident in these symbolic images as well. My initial idea was to create diptychs or triptychs consisting of a portrait of each person and supporting images representing their sense home. However, due to the sensitive nature of the subject, and the fact that some participants were refugees or asylum seekers, it became clear that a degree of anonymity would be important. In order to do this, I chose not to include names or countries of origin, and additionally chose to display the images in a way which would not directly link each person to specific items.


A selection of portraits from the project
A selection of portraits from the project

The images will be displayed by placing a montage of ‘home’ images between each portrait, with everything printed at A1 size to give maximum impact when viewed from a distance, as well as allowing people to examine the images up close and see all the details. The portraiture of Rineke Dijkstra has been influential on me in terms of both the physical scale of her work, and her approach to portraiture. I found a great quote from her recently from an interview about her approach in which she explains that she looks for a “sense of stillness and serenity” in a portrait that stands out from the others (from the book Image Makers, Image Takers by Anne-Celine Jaeger).

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