A grandparent’s house is a treasured haven. It is a domain removed from the drama of the childhood home, but still intimately familial. For the lucky ones, the grandfamily can be a constant second port of call, one step removed from the web of responsibilities and expectations owed amongst immediate kin.
We enter Grandfather’s House near the stairs. The home makes its self-consciousness known to us. We must be wary of our disturbance.
The photographer, Kira Braden, is not one of the lucky ones. “I have basically no relationship with my grandparents, but bizarrely, a strong relationship with their house. As a child, when my parents would occasionally take us to visit, my brother and I would explore their large Victorian era home with little supervision, while the adults socialized by the pool”
Braden returned to this recurring site of her childhood for a family get together. Her compositions match the tone from the soft overcast light filtering through many windows. She caresses pastel colours, plush textures, and soothing patterns as if reaching out with a single finger to gently stroke the subject, hesitant of her proximity.
Neither the home’s residents, nor any of the photographer’s paternal family, presumably present at the party, make themselves known in the house. It is tidily deserted, and perhaps has been for some time. The photographer makes her presence felt, but in no permanent way — only in the paused temporariness of a mirror.
Even if the rooms do not, for Braden, trigger notions of the permanency of family, the domain itself reminds us of the threat and promise of continual flux (despite that ageless floral print couch).
Losing a grandparent may be a little easier for being expected, and a little harder for uncapitalized potential. The depths of the loved one’s wisdom remain unplumbed, the breadth of their experience untapped. Returning to a grandparent’s house is also a little more bitter than journeying back to the childhood home. Sections of floor remain unworn by plastic wheels or errant pennings, and stretches of wall and certain niche hideaways set the scene for far too few imagined adventures.
Some of this longing comes through Braden’s photos. She roams the house with the air of detached respect, capturing objects and fixtures whose placement, right or wrong, reveal their true meaning only to her. Perhaps those candlesticks have been rooted to that spot for all her life; or, perhaps they are supposed to live somewhere else, and transplantation is a shock that needs documenting — when did John Grisham move in next door to Herman Hesse?
Many of the shots are taken from a low angle, like how Braden might have seen them, once upon a time. Often just the corner of a subject is visible, as if recreating the way a piece of her grandsires’ home intrudes upon her vision, using her sight as an entrance point to dig up a long-forgotten feeling. Keeping her subjects slightly out of frame limits the series as a personal or geographic documentary, instead refocusing the author’s interest as a tour of her contemporary self and the way it interacts with the self as it is kept in the memory lockbox that is Grandfather’s house.
The quirks of the house remain the property of Braden and her brother. The photographer is kind enough to grant us corners of her memories: a nearly wall-sized mirror, a tower of books, an easel facing away from the window, assorted unlevel picture frames, candlesticks on the floor. Her gift to us is a hint of the feeling of returning to a grandparent’s house one more time, made all the more sweet for those for whom it is not possible.
When will someone have put this umbrella down for the last time?
To see more of Braden’s work, you can follow her on Instagram.