Missing Interiors: The Birth of a Project
This story was originally published in September 2012.
One day, I entered what I call my studio… it actually acts as my studio, study, library, reading room, working space and my equipment store. When I walked in, I saw a small sign on the shelf where I keep my lights and other equipment. ‘aAsthaS room’, it said, in a mixture of capital and small letters. It was an announcement by the newly literate member of our house. I was shocked. Who has entered my territory and declared it as their own? This is one room I used to consider as my private space in the entire house. Now that is gone.
There is a reason for this shock. At the age of 15, I left the comfort of my home and shifted to the hostel. After staying in a shared accommodation for a while, I lived alone, in single rooms, for 15 years. Even after marriage, my study was a space that was demarcated as my own. Now, my daughter had made her first public announcement about her invasion.
First, I thought I should shout and punish all the people involved and put everything back in order. I took a picture as an evidence. When I was shooting, I realised that I am too late. The entire house had been occupied. The shelves where I kept my paintings now also accommodate some soft toys and Barbie dolls that shared the space with my ‘art’. My equipment and shelves said hello to some shoes and umbrellas as guests. My bedroom shelves, which had books on photography and art, now also had The Little Red Riding Hood and other storybooks.
I did not realise this as it happened. The process was so slow and gradual that nobody had noticed the change. I decided to start photographing all of them. This was without reason, almost seven years ago. Whenever I would see a sign of seven years ago. Whenever I would see a sign of invasion, I would document it. When my son was born, the same pattern followed.
The times were changing. The kitchen table became my new study as I had been evicted from my original study. The walls started becoming a canvas for my children. They became Picassos and Joan Miros and Jackson Pollocks. Their wall paintings became my new subjects. I never bothered to get the house painted.
For the longest time, I did not know that this was actually the beginning of a new project. Slowly though, I realised that looking new project. Slowly though, I realised that looking inside is a way of looking outside. I started seeing this as an analogy of what is happening in the world.
Human beings are supposed to be social animals. They live together and are supposed to share things that are commonly used, including spaces. But in reality, there is a tendency of each individual to demarcate their personal space. In a larger spectrum, the divisions of countries and states is an evidence of the same. One may argue that this is for the convenience of governance. Take a closer look, though, and you will realise that the underlying reason is about personalising a space and ‘owning’ it.
When a person moves into a new house, he customises it based on his preferences. When a country conquers another country, they put their flag to prove their ownership. This may happen in war, when the change is sudden and evident. However, at times, invasion of a particular region happens slowly. There is no war, but a gradual sea of infiltration that influences the character of a region in the long run.
The invasion of my personal space is something that builds on this concept of trespass, which applies to human beings and relationships across the world. It is also my way of looking at a personal transition—my bachelor life-giving way to me being a family person. The roles we play in our lives are constantly transforming, which is why we rarely notice the change… and that is one of the main reasons to document this through photography.
More significantly, the pictures of the interiors become emblematic of the zones where invasion happens by the military and the displacement to the people of that place. The project achieves a political meaning that surpasses the apparent innocence visible in the pictures.
The slow invasion changed my way of looking at photography also. No longer do I wait for a great idea to strike, a beautiful subject to come by or the decisive moment to occur. Every moment is worth photographing, every subject is a good subject and the simplest of ideas, when felt personally, is a great idea.
About Dr Deppak John Matthew
A teacher of design and a practising photographer, Dr Deepak John Mathew is the Head of Photography at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He is also the author of a book called ‘Principles of Design through Photography’ and is deeply interested in the history of art, colour, form and illustration.