Pursuing my love for photography during the first two and half years of my Purdue career taught me more about myself than about art. My family has ever been particularly into the arts and so learning to express myself through media was a foreign experience for me. One I embraced with each class, project, and critique.
Often I would be nearly finished with my project before I would realize I could see myself reflected in every image. I reasoned with myself that they were my work, my heart and soul was in each and so that is why they all seemed in some way a self portrait. Only later would I find the real connection.
This particular class was designed to help us explore old methods of photography that were art simply my process. Medium format and I would have a love/hate relationship that semester as I struggled to make my project come together before breaking my bank. Image after image of houses that could have been the neighbors in the show "Leave it to Beaver". Perfect houses with picket fences. Homes.
The first time I drove through that neighborhood I was couldn't peel my eyes away from them. For years afterwards I would drive that neighborhood over and over, finding some sort of comfort in those houses. Gravitating there on many a drive but most often in December when they were covered with Christmas lights and playful decorations.
It was my teacher who was finally able to tie my projects together. The pictures of the Saturday kids interacting. The pictures of memories, keepsakes, boxes, photos. Each representing moments I cherished and hoarded. The letters. The houses.
He looked at the line of houses after my first round of photos. He picked each house up, one by one. Taking a closer look at the angles, the edges, the framing, each element I'd been taught to consider as I photographed. I waited. Finally he turned to me and said words that would play in my head long after that project had been tucked away and my major had been changed. He said to me, "Becca every project you pursue is the same topic". I was dumbfounded. The same?
"I can't help but see the same thing in every picture...you're searching for home. Not your home, just the concept of home"...
With a childhood full of boxes, houses, rentals, and goodbyes it's a wonder I didn't make the connection before. In some ways I think I spent my entire life exploring the concept of 'home'. Is it really wherever your heart is? Is it where your rump rests? Is it always sweet? Do any of these things apply to me? What if my heart is divided between the people I loved along the way? What if my rump has rested so many places I can't even remember the addresses or even picture them when I close my eyes? What about when a house feels foreign? When you first move in and it still feels like someone else's home but you know it's supposed to be yours? How long does it take to be 'home sweet home'? Once it is, why do I feel like I'm always leaving?
My Mom always told me that as long as we were together as a family we were home. When I went away to college she would fuss at me when leaving our house to return to school I would slip and say "I have to go home". This is your home she would argue. Mostly teasing, but always reminding me.
I decided once when I was a teen that I would take my children on a road trip someday. I would show them every house I'd ever lived in. I would return to each of them not just to show them, but so that I could try to imprint them forever in my memory. The idea was brilliant right up until I realized that I didn't know where most of them were. Maybe just the most important ones, I thought. Which ones aren't important, I wonder?
My desire to feel at home continued through my college years as I fought myself internally every time someone asked me where I was from. Where indeed. I was born in New Jersy. I did the most growing up in Tampa. My family lives in Indy. Our family friends are in North Carolina where I imagine my parents will some day land. I could make a case for each place we lived. I am "from" each of them, but I imagine that sort of lengthy answer is not what the person was seeking.
Three of the pictures from that project hang above my bed in my Tampa house. I love them because they remind me of home. I see my own home as a collection of the images that defined years worth of self portraiture in my artwork. The envelope with layers of addresses. the children playing on the kitchen floor. The perfect houses with the white picket fences. The people that made each house feel full, even before we could furnish them.
Home for me is a sort of collage of memories, histories, moments, people, and yes even some actual houses. Home is a concept that's always growing, making room to include more pieces - yet, somehow is always whole.