When he first heard about the HOME project, Brighton-based photographer Mark Power’s immediate reaction was to make something personal. “Home is such an abstract concept,” he says. “For instance, if I’ve been travelling abroad for a while I’d probably consider my home to be England. If I’m already there, then I might think of Brighton as home. In Brighton I’d probably think of my house.”
Ultimately though ‘home’ translates as family for him, and by coincidence the project landed just as his family was undergoing seismic change. “By chance, the subject was staring me in the face – our daughter Chilli was leaving home in September, moving to London to begin a degree in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University,” explains Power. “Ironically, this date coincided almost exactly with the deadline to deliver the final project.”
Even so, he initially fought against making work about his daughter. “Like most parents who go through a similar experience, I found myself confused by mixed emotions of pride and sadness,” he says. “Pride, because our daughter had been accepted onto an excellent course, and sadness, because Chilli had been a part of our home for 19 years.”
But his family “whole-heartedly embraced the idea” and, encouraged to do so himself, Power eventually found making the images cathartic. “Chilli was happy for me to photograph her at all times, in whatever state, so was her brother Milligan and my partner Jo,” he says. “The experience of Chilli leaving affected us all, so we all thought it an important thing to do.”
But while the images were important to his family, Power was initially not convinced that anyone else would be interested – something that he sums up as “the perennial problem with such personal work”. Then he stumbled across the poem What If This Road by Sheenagh Pugh, which indirectly addressed the ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ he was facing “in such a positive way, it seemed to be a sign”. This poem became his touchstone for the project, and a unifying force in it.
I ask if there is a key photograph from the project and the one he immediately picks out is the most personal of the lot – a portrait of himself in tears. “It’s not my favourite, in fact, in retrospect, it’s a little embarrassing,” he says.
“It was made the day we took Chilli to her halls of residence and said goodbye. Back in Brighton the house felt so different, like there was something missing. I knew I had to make a picture which very directly talked about how I was feeling, so I went into her bedroom, sat on her bed, and thought about those many memories we’d shared. The tears came easily enough, so I pointed the camera at my face and took a series of selfies.”
He thought long and hard about including it in the final edit but, inspired by his family’s candour, decided to be equally honest. “Typically, I was worried about Chilli leaving the nest,” he says. “But of course the reality proved to be very different and she’s flourishing in London, working hard, making good work, and meeting lots of new friends. She’s already calling London ‘home’.”
HOME, a collaboration between Fujifilm and Magnum Photos runs from 18-27 May 2018 at The Vinyl Factory London and the photobook can be ordered from shop.magnumphotos.com. Further information on the project and international exhibitions is available on home-magnum.com
Mark Power will be giving a free talk on his work in the exhibition and what “HOME” means to him on Wednesday 23 May from 18:00 – 19:30. Register at home-magnum.com.