Reviewed by Erika Gentry
Among an extraordinary sea of documentary books, The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings, by KayLynn Deveney and Albert Hastings, is uniquely allegorically accessible. The diminutive book depicts the life of Albert “Bert” Hastings” in everyday domestic scenes that might otherwise be overlooked as banal by some. Yet Deveney and Hastings transform personal objects and day-to-day routines into universal documents that illustrate the subtle evidence of one’s existence.
In 2001 Deveney met Hastings (1915–2007) when she moved to Wales to study photography and they became neighbors. She requested he let her photograph him performing routine daily activities: shopping, gardening, listening to the radio, laundering, dressing, eating, etc. Over time Hastings shared his insights regarding the photographs, and these thoughts became the hand-written captions that illustrate the book. Containing 78 annotated photographs (including poems he wrote), his clock drawings, and personal family photographs, the book permits the reader to witness and participate alike in seven years of his life. (Hastings was 85 when Deveney began photographing him.)
Inspired by the notion of “Stimmung” (defined by essayist and critic Mario Praz as “the sense of intimacy that is created by a room and its furnishings”), Deveney focuses on intimate vignettes of Hastings and his surroundings: In one image Bert’s reflection in a small mirror captures him ironing his clothing; in another his airing laundry and antiquated photographs of his late wife frame him. Another photograph reveals a simple, close-up macro view of a lampshade’s finely detailed yellow fringe.
As Hastings comments on images of himself, his sense of humor is revealed that further accentuates the photography with lifelike personality: He captions himself opening a set of diffusely lit, yellow curtains as, “I’m not talking to a ghost, I’m opening the curtains.” In another portrait he playfully refers to a song by Frank Sinatra by captioning it “Just me and my shadow.”
According to Deveney, “I believe photographs of our possessions and domestic patterns can be portraits, just like photographs of our faces. In addition to the photographs of Bert and the captions he writes, the images of Bert’s unfolded pajamas, nightcap, space heater atop a biscuit tin, and the simple apparatus he engineered to hold a broken daffodil up straight in a shallow teacup, all speak to me of him.”
While the images and surrounds captured in The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings clearly embody Hastings’ life, they could just as convincingly embody our own. We take from the images and accompanying text not only one man’s notion of passing time but also a personal connection to the small joys that comprise our daily lives.
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List price: $19.95
Hardcover: 116 pages
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; first edition (June 21, 2007)