San Antonio Express-News, October 6, 2006
Book Review: 'The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings'
Web Posted: 10/06/2007 03:15 PM CDT
Special to the Express-News
The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings
Photos by KayLynn Deveney
Text and drawings by Albert Hastings
Princeton Architectural Press, $19.95
Photographer KayLynn Deveney was living in southern Wales pursuing her Ph.D. when she and her husband became acquainted with an elderly neighbor named Albert Hastings. They often saw Hastings, then in his late 80s, puttering around his garden or simply watching the world go by. Despite his quiet presence, he seemed "vital and engaged" to Deveney, who befriended and began to photograph him in his daily routine.
The result of that relationship is "The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings," a collection of 78 photographs accompanied by Hastings' handwritten captions.
Supporting the assertion in her introduction that "photographs of our possessions and domestic patterns can be portraits, just like photographs of our faces," Deveney's work is a portrait of aging as well as an exploration of the intimacy and warmth conveyed by domestic routine.
Hastings is seen doing laundry, baking, grocery shopping, picking up his pension check, feeding pigeons and watching television.
The camera focuses on his carefully arranged belongings — clothes folded on the bed, framed photos of his long-deceased wife, a daffodil held in a cup by a rubber band. Mementos from his hobbies include a few droll poems and clock-making drawings. From his dutifully prepared lists of television programs we gather that "Friends," "South Park" and "Tales from the Grave" were among his favorite programs.
Through the mundane and sometimes painful details of growing old alone, Hastings emerges as a beautiful, contented individual. Many of the photos depict him smiling, eyes shining, despite his often drab, dark surroundings. Even in hospital photos, he appears patient and at peace.
One image shows him laughing, enjoying an evening nightcap by the warm glow of a table lamp cocked to the side as if it also were tipsy and happy. In another, he appears beatific while buttering sandwich bread — a stunning photo with all the compositional and lighting elements of a Renaissance painting. A comedic highlight is the sunbathing picture, in which Hastings's skinny pink form is laid out in a rather dreary parking lot, his cherished "cuppa" (cup of tea) and a small table for his clothes placed nearby.
Deveney has explored the topic of aging and domesticity in her previous work, including a moving portrait of an elderly Welsh couple living in a nursing home. But the Hastings photos are radiant, even celebratory. The colors are rich in tone, the images varied in texture and mood, and the compositions simple yet powerful.
The book's structure is consistent, suggesting a subtle narrative that begins with a tunnel-like view through thick foliage of Hastings' bright, blooming garden, and ends with an eerie shot of him standing in darkness near a window's pale, fading light. As if anticipating his death (which occurred as the book was being completed), he wrote beneath the latter: "I'm not talking to a ghost, I'm opening the curtains."
Deveney clearly was inspired by her friendship with Hastings. She says she asked him to write his own captions "to better understand his feelings about being photographed and his reactions to my photographs." The dual-perspective experiment worked, as the handwritten comments add yet another layer of intimacy to this small, precious book. Even its size contributes to the journal-like quality, which unlike most glossy, coffee-table-sized photography books, invites the reader into the dialogue.
Probably the most enduring feature of "The Day-to-Day Life" is the idea of shared perspective. In the image captioned "Watching the world (Rat Race) hurtling by," Hastings is standing in the entrance of his garden, facing the street. Again framed in warm light, he leans against the wall, hand in pocket, foot resting to the side, in no hurry at all. Yet there is a double viewpoint, as the photograph is taken from behind him — we are watching Hastings watching the world go by. The photo seems to invite us to join him, to see what he sees. From the vantage point of this unique book, it's the pleasures of the everyday mundane.
Noelia Santos is an editor for MySA.com.