Thomas Duffield – The Whole House is Shaking
WORDS BY ZAK R. DIMITROV
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
“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.
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.
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.