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Thomas Duffield – The Whole House is Shaking

 

WORDS BY ZAK R. DIMITROV

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We all have an idea of a utopian family – for some it's siblings gathering on Sundays to spend time together and reconnect, for others it might be home-cooked meals by mum every night and no phones on the table. Behind every idyll however, there are skeletons. Thomas Duffield, a recent graduate from the University of Huddersfield, grew up in a countryside farm with his family and they shared many precious memories. In his mind things were great, although he admits he had felt there had been a secret that his elders had done their best to hide for the children’s sake. He found out later that his dad struggled with a heroin addiction

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“Kids are very perceptive and we knew that something that was never disclosed to us was troubling the household. When my sister and I reached an older age, we became aware of hidden aspect of our family history, our fathers struggle with a heroin addiction. This somewhat changed my perspective on our early life, realising that this dark enclave had been concealed from us from the position of care and love.” – Duffield.

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His approach to photography is different from other projects that explore addiction – the viewer is neither presented with portraits of the man nor anything that might suggest illegal substances. Instead, Duffield has created a pictorial world that only slightly suggests something that is not right. He reveals that for this project he asked his dad to sit for a portrait, but having sensed the discomfort in doing so, he has decided not to photograph him. This further adds to the complexity of the work by creating a mental image of the main subject even though he isn’t pictured.

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A leitmotif that we see in the project is disguise – a person, presumably his mother is hidden behind a bed sheet while doing the laundry. Or a window with lace drapes barely visible from the ivy on the outside wall. With the omission of his dad’s portrait this could be a metaphor for the parents’ decision not to reveal their secret.

Duffield has chosen to publish this project as a photobook – an object as intimate as the subject matter of the work. In it we see pictures of a spelling book that belonged to Rachael, Thomas’ sister. He explains that he included it to add a second voice, one of innocence and humour.

Reading his artist statement has made me wonder whether his family history has influenced his own attitude towards drugs. “It’s definitely a complex issue and I believe there is an unfair stigma towards certain habits”, Thomas says, “but I’m quite opposed to anything that could lead to having your wellbeing dependent on a substance, it’s a desolate prospect”.

Duffield’s artistic future appears fruitful - he is currently co-curating a show as well as shooting new work. Staying true to his intimate practice, he has chosen his mother and grandfather to make photographs about, but he’s cautious about revealing more.

thomasduffield.com

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Max Ferguson