Zoë Barker | Relative Spaces

When Zoë Barker’s grandfather died in 2004 he left behind an extraordinary house that had been his home for almost fifty years. Little improved since the 1950s it had round-pin sockets, a wood-burning water heater, parlour, scullery and no central heating. He had fully expected to come back to the house and its rundown fixtures and fittings, so everything was left waiting for his return.

Zoë’s exhibition, RELATIVE SPACES, documents through photographs her grandfather’s house in Dorset not only as he left it, but the journey it took as it was emptied of possessions then transformed by new owners.

“The first part of the exhibition Images of My Grandfather’s House gives a poignant glimpse into the everyday world of my grandfather,” says Zoë. “The images are really a set of portraits ‘in absentia’, they make us ask questions and draw conclusions about who he was and how he lived.”

Zoë had obviously visited the house many times but says she “had never really stopped to look at anything.” By photographing the house in each stage she seized the opportunity to observe the everyday and in the simple act of capturing the images give each object a life and value of its own.

The second part of the exhibition, Images of the Empty House Waiting to be Sold contrasts starkly to the first and creates a sense of time holding its breath. The minimalist images still resonate with the ‘presence of absence’ of Zoë’s grandfather but this time through the marks and stains left behind, subtle signs that hint at a memory of the man within the fabric of the building itself.

“While these images evoke sadness for the end of an era there is a sense that a new chapter needs to be written,” says Zoë, “Which is why in part three of the exhibition, Images of the Renovated House Under New Ownership it is fascinating to see how the same house, the exact same spaces, have changed to reflect their new owners.”

“These are overwhelmingly about their ‘presence’ and how they have made the house their own. It’s refreshing and wonderful to see the place once more full of family life.”

Following years in London working in television, Zoë took two years out to study photography at Reading College of Art & Design and turned professional in 2007. She has exhibited at Dorset Centre for the Arts, was selected for the Royal West of England Academy Photographic Competition, Bristol in 2008 and has been shortlisted for the EVOLVER competition for the past three years running.

Now based on the Isle of Wight she continues to find its light and coastline particularly inspiring. “I’m inspired by Englishness, run down places, domestic interiors, the ordinary.”

The photographer Uta Barth speaks of the ‘blind spots of the everyday.’ I want my images to show there is beauty everywhere if you take the time to look.

This article originally appeared in Evolver 50, March & April 2009. For information on the latest Evolver magazine go to evolver.org.uk

For up to date details on Zoe Barker's latest work and exhibitions visit onanisland.co.uk

Chairs For Collection

Chairs For Collection

Electric Fire

Electric Fire

Granddad's Parlour Chair

Granddad's Parlour Chair

Debra O'Sullivan