Growing up with a father secretly addicted to heroin, new graduate Thomas Duffield learnt to read beyond the surface of things early on
“I try to use photography to investigate the aspects of my family life that have been deliberately set aside,” says Thomas Duffield.
For him, photography is a cathartic process. His final-year project, The whole house is shaking, pays tribute to an idyllic childhood on a small farm on the outskirts of Leeds, while simultaneously confronting a darker enclave of family history. Composed from small details of everyday life and portraits of his mother, sister and grandfather, the project also dwells on his father’s clandestine heroin addiction, hidden from the children while they were growing up.
The 21-year-old, who recently graduated from the University of Huddersfield, attributes his inquisitive nature to the concealment of his father’s struggle. Citing Larry Sultan’s Pictures From Home as an influence, Duffield’s previous projects have also investigated his family life, pairing pictures from family albums with his own photographs to construct new narratives.
“I learnt that addressing this subject was valuable to me, so I thought that a new project could open up more dialogue between my family, especially me and my father.”
It is the absence of Duffield’s father and the slow pace of life that renders the photographs, and their underlying story, so powerful. Working closely with his mother and sister, the series evokes the emotional reverberations of his father’s addiction through quiet moments at home. “I wanted to create photographs that offer an alternative perspective. A photograph of somebody using drugs, in my opinion, displays only the satiation of addiction,” says Duffield.
“However, I regard addiction as something complex and psychological, which is why I took a more abstract approach in some photographs, while other images look to the peripheral details of my family’s experience and the contrasting states of being high and being in withdrawal.”
The undergraduate is currently making the project into a photobook, where the images are interspersed with short lines of text taken from his sister’s primary school spelling book. He says he found them to be “fascinating insights into my sister’s experience of early life in the household.”