There are 10 subjects in Linda Wachtel’s hyperlocal photographic series, Stories from the Interior, shot earlier this year in Glen Eira. The youngest is four-year-old Ella Rose, the oldest is Millie, smiling in her wheelchair, at 102, in an aged-care facility.
In one photo a widower, Stephen Schmideg, stands in his kitchen with a freshly baked cake, which is part of an ongoing ritual; he takes them to the palliative-care hospice that looked after his wife in her final days. In another photo a man sits in his bathtub surrounded by shells he’s collected over decades. Waltraud Reiner, a milliner, sits beside a Christmas tree built of piles of books. And then there’s Dee Goldberg – a woman for whom Joseph’s technicolour dreamcoat would seem muted – reclining on a purple velvet couch in her hot-pink outfit made from recycled clothing.
The Glen Eira Council commissioned the series as the centrepiece of Home, an exhibition about the stories of the places we live and the identities, relationships and memories that go with them.
It’s “a look at how we inhabit our private domestic spaces and what they reveal about family relationships, leisure, different cultural backgrounds, spiritual practices and daily rituals” Wachtel says. She’s been a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize, the Moran Photographic Prize and the Head on Portrait Prize, and her work is held in public and private collections throughout the country.
Each subject was chosen to represent a different experience of the local community. They range in age and background; they are creative and colourful and sometimes eccentric, sometimes quiet. Their personalities are reflected in their homes.
Wachtel had met a few of her subjects before, but most were strangers that allowed her into their homes as “a leap of faith”.
“You have no idea what you’re going find. And what you understand at the end of it all is that everyone has a story and the story can be revealed overtly or subtly in how they arrange their domestic space,” she says. Her portraits are intimate, consuming and layered; quirky details emerge after a second or third look. Often they have connections to other artists’ work in the group show.
Take Wachtel’s photograph of Alan and Alison Pert. They currently live in the historic modernist Ernest Fooks house in Caulfield, which was built in 1966. If you want to see what the interior originally looked like, take a few steps to a series of black-and-white photos by Wolfgang Sievers, shot in the 1960s. Another image by acclaimed photographer Jane Burton also features the Fooks interior at a different time.
You can see the same house through different decades, owners and photographic eyes, making it clear how significantly “each person brings a different quality to the story” of a home and space Wachtel says.
“I think you can have a portrait of a home and the people who live in it without having the actual people,” she says. But she believes the subjects make the work richer.
The series will become part of Glen Eira City Council’s permanent collection as “a kind of time capsule” says Wachtel.
Alongside Stories from the Interior, curator Diane Soumilas has included portraits by Lee Grant, and Janina Green, who both explore the idea of home, migration and identity by looking at the private domestic spaces of migrants living in the suburbs and regional Australia.
Pieces by Prudence Flint show “solitary female subjects immersed in daily rituals such as bathing, reading, eating and sleeping” Soumilas says. Noel McKenna paints humble domestic scenes that say something about childhood memories and the simple beauty found in suburban life. Graham Fletcher describes the subject of his paintings – modernist home interiors decorated with artefacts and other objects – as “lounge room tribalism”.
“The common thread [in the works] is how important home is to all of us,” says Wachtel. “When we open that door it actually is a sanctuary. Every single person has an interesting story – it’s just whether or not they’re willing to share it.”
Home runs from March 3 to April 2 at the Glen Eira Council Gallery. The gallery is open Monday to Friday from 10am–5pm, and on weekends from 1pm–5pm.