Portraiture and the Power of Spaces

It is the knowledge of the death of the occupant that creates a tangible sense of absence in Miranda Hutton’s The Rooms project as the viewer then attempts to read emblematic clues or traces to associate with a lived presence of the named subject amid his or her possessions arranged in each room.

Hutton began thinking about the physical spaces left by loved ones who have passed away ten years ago when a close friend died of cancer. The series was instigated before beginning her MA and the course has provided an opportunity to focus on, and move her project forward. She has made contact with parents who have lost a child, interviewed them and photographed each room. Hutton, who quickly realized the emotional importance of leaving these rooms as they were lived in, describes her project as ‘an exploration of loss and memory’.

Vernacular photographs have long had an important part to play in personal commemoration and contemporary artists including Christian Boltanski have powerfully used photographs and personal belongings to explore death and absence. Brenda Beban’s The Miracle of Death (from Charlotte Cotton, The Photograph as Contemporary Art, 2004), where the artist photographs a brown box containing the ashes of her deceased partner in various rooms of the house they shared together, makes another useful point of reference for Hutton’s work.

The pictures could equally be described as being about portraiture and the power of the spaces we inhabit and the things we gather around us to say something about who we are, though we are not actually physically seen. There is a distinct sense, in the uneven tilt of a lamp shade, a hand written note stuck to the wall or a pair of trainers left by the bed that these spaces have only recently been left will soon be returned to, each room frozen en abyme of the photographic image itself.

However, as Hutton points out, her images are records of a single moment in a slow and complex process of change, grieving and healing.