Urban dwellers live in very close proximity to each other, but we often never see inside each other's homes. Living with her husband and daughter in a 450 square foot apartment, Heather Weston wondered how other families coped with the limitations of small homes. She decided to ask 52 families if she could visit them...with her camera.
The result is her photography project AT HOME which is currently on exhibit in Brooklyn where she and many of the participating families live. It took her a year to complete and she's decided to continue the project and expand it to all kinds of people around the country. Weston documented this project on her blog where you can learn more about these families and how she knows or met them.
I love visiting people at home—being welcomed into a family's space and being enveloped by their particular energy and dynamics, which are most natural and apparent in their home setting. So I really dug in to Weston's photos partly as a voyeur, partly wanting to learn something from other's homes, but mostly out of pure curiosity.
Q&A with Heather Weston:
What inspired you to embark on this project?
I wanted to remind myself that I am an artist. I love recording ideas and capturing moments. Photography is just a tool I can use to organize my life. I was frustrated with our living situation. Family of 3 in a 450 sq. foot apt + all my photo gear is a tight fit. We have 2 cats too!
How did you find families to photograph - were people generally open to the idea or worried about opening up their homes to you and your lens?
The project started with me giving myself the assignment to photograph one family per week for one year. The only rule was it would be someone I somehow knew previously. I’m not sure the families knew why I was coming to their homes to photograph them and I'm not sure I did either in the beginning, I wanted to connect with the families and take a portrait of them just being in their space. We didn’t really talk about their space we just talked about daily life. It was very organic depending on the family and how well I knew them. It was always different ranging from casual to more formal. Sometimes I was invited to stay for coffee or a meal and other times it was just enough to get the family's attention for 10 minutes. Sometimes I was in a hurry. Working on a project for a year there were some weekends I just did not want to take any photos; other weekends I had to double up. If I didn't know the people that well, I didn't wander all around their home. Other people I knew really well. At least two of the sessions took place after brunch and you can see the plates left on the tables.
Did you find that a family's home matched what you expected to find or were there surprises?
I was surprised by how many people paint their walls yellow and orange!
Have you seen the Dinanda Nooney collection online at the New York Public Library? Your project is a similarly wonderful glimpse into real homes in New York, creating a visual time capsule of this time and place. Did you see commonalities in these homes or in the way people use their homes that you feel will come to define our time in the future?
Yes, but not until I was almost done with the year long project. Lucien Zayan from The Invisible Dog art Center showed it to me first. I think that is what drew him to ask me to exhibit the work. He really liked the idea of this document of our fellow New Yorkers in our current time. I love her series. I am continuing on with my project. It was originally called 52 Families and I kept a blog while I was working on it in 2011. With getting ready for this exhibition I have picked the series back up, changed it to AT HOME and now want to photograph everyone at home, not just families and not just people I already know. People all over the country even.
From either a practical or emotional standpoint, did you learn anything from visiting and photographing these families at home that you applied to your own home or your own thinking?
I learned to relax. It doesn’t matter how much space we have. We have our stuff and sometimes it is in neat piles and sometimes messy ones but we all have piles. Go vertical! If you want to stay organized you have to declutter constantly. Keep a box for Goodwill and drop it off often. When you have such a small square footage you have to really think about what is important and necessary to you. You just can't have anyone over for dinner! In my apartment now, we have 10 people over for dinner.
(Image credits: Heather Weston)