Monday, June 25, 2007

The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings by Kaylynn Deveney

When Kaylynn Deveney relocated from the United States to southern Wales, she would have no way of knowing she was moving into an apartment across the street from the subject of her first book, a Mr. Albert Hastings.

The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings published by Princeton Architectural Press is a combination of fine photography by Kaylynn Deveney and text and drawings by Mr. Hastings. As the title suggests, the book offers a look into the domestic rituals and routines of an aging Albert Hastings whom at the time of meeting Kaylynn Deveney, was 85.

It opens with an image of a garden pathway covered with greenery as if to suggest (like so many great photobooks) we are venturing into a secretive, secluded world. Mr. Hastings’s world is mostly hidden from view; his garden seems to be the buffer between the outside world and his day to day chores. His days are spent cooking, gardening, feeding pigeons, drinking his cup of tea (“My cuppa”), all of which seem to be the pleasure centers around which his life revolves. The outside world, though seemingly calm when it appears in the pictures, is referred to by Albert as the “Rat Race.”

Kaylynn’s photography is warm and respectful. As photographers, some approach a subject knowing that it is full of potential to make “good pictures.” Others approach a subject because of an interest in learning something through the process of picture-making. Deveney seems intent on using the medium to bridge a generational gap and befriend her seemingly charismatic and warm neighbor. Photography may have invoked the friendship but after looking at the pictures, it seems to have taken a back seat to the importance of the relationship in both of their lives.

If it were just a book of photographs alone, we might read Mr. Hastings as simply a stand in for a representative portrait of an older Wales everyman, but through his participation in the project, by captioning the photographs, we decipher his personality due to his choice of words in describing the photographs content. They often display, not only humor, but also a directness that comments on his perception of himself and photographs.

Under one photograph of a hat he writes simply “Size 7 1/8

Under one of him near a golden lit window he writes, “I’m not talking to a ghost, I’m opening the curtains.”

His concern for the things around him is felt with warm regard. Deveney photographs a “Wind broken Daffodil” which is held upright in a tea cup due to the ingenious use of a rubber-band. He speaks of the pigeons he feeds outside of his apartment as if they have a concern with being photographed. One caption reads: “Feeding pigeons, net curtain in the way. We were quietly getting birds accustomed to camera.

The book also contains drawings by Mr. Hastings of clocks, which in another context might amount to nothing but a shopworn metaphor for the passage of time. But here, since they are drawings done by his hand, they also reflect the control and order he exerts over his day.

There are several old photographs also reproduced of Albert’s wife who passed away in 1958. Oddly, there is a tone of melancholy that runs through the book that is felt not from Deveney’s photographs of Albert but mostly from the inclusion of these vintage photographs of his wife. These photographs, beyond Kaylynn’s presence which is felt, are his companions as well as memories. When Deveney photographs Albert with his pigeons, there appears a photograph of his wife feeding pigeons on the facing page.

The book is very nicely designed and is appropriately small in trim size. It seems precious like the relationship between Deveney and Hastings. The handwritten texts (Albert’s) create a sense of the photographs as objects. The sequence is good and is broken into sections by occasional photographs of the garden, perhaps as an attempt to break the book into different days. There are seventy-five photographs and although Deveney has included a handful that are repetitive and could have been left out, it is in no way burdened by length or many superfluous images. The printing is well done.

In her essay that begins the book, Deveney writes; “This work is sited where Bert’s autobiographical vision, based in life experience and feeling, meets the eye of a stranger. Together our visions and versions of his day-to-day experience sit side by side to create a new tale. At the end of this project Bert and I, of course, maintain our individual perspective, but I think we are richer, too, for being informed by one another. I know I am.”

Perhaps through this small, unassuming book, we too can be a little more informed.

Book Available Here (Day to Day Life of A. H.)