Empty Chairs are the Noisiest


Conchita Fernandes Senior Features Editor

Living in the midst of a global pandemic has forced me to invariably acknowledge things that occupy space in my apartment—chairs, to be specific—a subject that I have admired by looking at people’s photographs of it, as well as reminiscing of my own encounters.

I am uncertain of how to begin talking about a subject that is as multifaceted as a chair. Chairs can project humility and grandiose. They can be relaxing as well as uncomfortable. They can be enablers of conversations or of anxiety-ridden interrogations. They can also be vessels for lonesomeness and isolation or that of a safe haven. It is these contradictory qualities that have perhaps made chairs endearing, and that like every object, they too harbour memories and secrets and histories.

Every time that I encounter a chair, the first thought that runs through me is, “Who was its last occupant?” followed by “How many people must have sat on this chair?” Do you ever wonder about such things, about the history of everyday objects? I’ve used photography to try and attempt to find clues that could help me not just answer these questions but also to make sense of my curiosity for the subject. So far I’ve only looked outside, impervious and unaffected by the presence of the subject in my own home. However, in the last few days, since I began writing this and being quarantined at home, I’ve been gazing, time and again, at the corner of the hall of my apartment, where a single wooden chair has been residing since it arrived six months ago.

I had decided much earlier that when the time came to buy a dining set, that I would place one of its chairs beside the window of my apartment. It had to be wooden, no plastic or one of those fake wood variants. It had to feel solid. I ended up renting a set, as I couldn’t afford a brand new one. It took me close to ten years to make this possible, last year in October. My cat, Schmoo, had just passed away, and I was hell bent on changing things in the apartment—to get rid of any old familiarity or memories that I had with the space. It’s another matter that it didn’t exactly work, but I now had a corner beside the window and my towering pile of books, where I could temporarily move into, for a few hours in a day.

Photograph by Conchita Fernandes.

In the span of a month I had experienced an entire gamut of emotions on this chair. I found time to photograph too—photograph myself. It was the perfect spot, with the window right beside me, and with the sun shining on my face. When it got dark, the dim bulb above the chair provided light. I couldn’t help but photograph or rather document my state of mind while being seated on it. No other space in the house afforded me the likability of this spot. It felt like I was retreating into a space where I’d be accepted in whatever state I was in.

As I write this, my eyes flicker to the corner where the chair is. I have a soft spot for the space. I’ve been my most vulnerable here, I’ve confronted harsh truths about myself while sitting on its cushioned top, I’ve also found hope after hours of abject despair, while hanging on to its wooden frame.

As the lockdown continues, I see myself spending far more time than I had in the past, within the invisible confines of this nook. Sometimes I wonder about the memories ingrained in the fabric of this wooden chair, if it has endured the agony, joy, or comfort of its previous sitters.

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Better Photography.