London based photographer and video maker Millie Burton takes notice of the nooks and crannies where we store nostalgia and hoard memories. With an eye on the details, she examines domestic spaces and their debris, with a lens and painstaking precision.
Two projects documenting Millie's grandmother's house in the years leading up to her death and the house's subsequent sale spanned 4 years. Here, when Millie swaps a still camera for a moving one, we see an attempt to unfreeze the process, to investigate what goes on in an empty room during the seconds of a long exposure. In 2007, the London College of Communication MA graduate was commissioned by Pavilion in Leeds, her series Home Improvements is showing there all this month till July 9.
You've moved from a very personal domestic space to a more anonymous yet accessible subject in Home Improvements. Was this a natural progression or was it directed by the theme of the Pavilion exhibition?
A bit of both. Home Improvements came from looking beyond the personal domestic space I had been working in for General Effects, and observing the outside world. I also wanted to focus on a more universal theme for the Pavilion commission. Still, there is a clear progression, since all the objects in Home Improvements had once been part of someone’s domestic space, but have been evicted into the public space of the dump.
How intensive a project was General Effects?
General Effects was a two-year project, it followed on from a closely related project in the same house, Pictures from an Interior. I photographed from time to time over those four to five years during visits to the house that were usually months apart. But the periods of photographing were quite intensive. I spent a lot of time crouched in empty rooms framing shots and making long exposures.
Obviously it was a very personal subject matter, Is there a cathartic process?
Yes absolutely. It was a way for me to hold on to something I knew I was going to lose. Photographing the house and its objects was for me a bit like hoarding them. The photographs are no substitute for the real thing, in fact, they are very different from the real thing. But the process of photographing every part of the house forced me to explore it from top to bottom and preserve it, if only on film. Sometimes when I photograph a room or object with strong emotional associations, its “aura” or atmosphere seems to get sucked up into the lens … some of the strangeness disappears after I’ve finished the exposure, as if a spell has been broken. So yes, it is a kind of catharsis.
Could explain the project titles?
General Effects, has different implications. It is used by auction houses to refer to the miscellaneous contents of cleared homes - as in ‘Auction of Victorian to modern furniture & general effects. ‘Effects’ is also used to describe things that once belonged to a deceased person, as in ‘Personal effects’. It could also refer to the emotional impact of a place or a photograph, or the effect of time. For me the title is an objective way to describe a very subjective project.
Home Improvements is a reference to the unseen side of house refurbishments. It refers to the things that get replaced, the waste products of our attempts to update our domestic interiors.
What type of camera do you use?
A Mamiya 7, and a Hasselblad.
What are you currently working on?
I’m discussing a collaboration with another photographer, Neri Kamcili, about found objects. I’m also working on a different edit and re-print of Home Improvements for a new exhibition in Brighton this August.
By Millie Ross