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Photo: Marna Clarke

When photographers capture the meaning of home, it looks like taboo nudity, mysticism and a mattress loaded with rocks

This month, A Beautiful Perspective relaunched as a digital magazine tackling a single theme each month. For our first month, we’re exploring the concept of home. Click here to read more stories from the HOME Issue.

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Isabel “Chavela” Vargas was a singer known as “the Edith Piaf of Latin music” and la voz áspera de la ternura—“the rough voice of tenderness.” Chavela sang ranchera, adapting the traditional Mexican genre to her singular stage presence by using the slur of drunken singing and slowing down the tempo so the audience hung on her every word. Born in Costa Rica, Chavela adopted Mexico as her homeland, though she thought of the stage as her true spiritual home.

In 2012, at 93, Chavela gave what would be her final performance in Spain. She fell ill that night and appeared to be on her deathbed, imploring her caretakers to return her to Mexico so she could die there instead. Her last public message, delivered from a hospital in Cuernavaca, was, “I leave with Mexico in my heart.”

Home is a feeling that seeps beneath the skin. It might be an adopted country, a moment we return to or a place we’re running from. A tent erected on a patch of concrete. A warm glow from a familiar window. My 12-year-old says it’s anywhere you feel safe and welcome, why we invite guests to “make themselves at home.”  

“Home” calls to mind a cluster of memories and emotions, the locus settled deep in our muscles and nerves.

This year, Bay Area non-profit Photo Alliance asked photographers to consider the notion of home for its annual juried exhibition. More than 1,200 submissions poured in, all connecting to home as a feeling, an idea or a physical place. The entries were reviewed by a panel that included Christopher McCall, director of Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco, and Thea Traff, associate photo editor at the New Yorker. Fourteen of those were chosen for exhibition at the SFO Museum, the first museum in an airport to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.

ABP spoke with three of the artists chosen for the show—Susan Friedman, Marna Clarke and Michael Hicks—to discuss what home means to them and the stories behind their work.

"Ironing/Yellow Bathroom 2017" from the diptych series “Memories” Marna Clarke

“As I’ve shared this work, I’ve faced discomfort and disapproval from others for exposing what seem to be big taboos: aging, death and elder nudity. I’ve felt completely shaky and vulnerable, as if I’m exposing my own secrets to the whole world. I’ve known from other instances that sharing truthfully is a powerful experience for me and is potentially an invaluable gift for those who are ready and open to receive it. I had a wake up call about getting older when I turned 70 ten years ago. I wanted to see what I look like, and it’s become more than just what I look like. Photograph means ‘writing with light.’ When you fall in love with light, your photography will change. Why take the picture if you don’t have this magic in it? These images fall together to create poems of crisis and acceptance and the inevitable, irreversible passage of time.”

Marna Clarke is working on portraits for her show next May at Gallery Route 1 in Pt. Reyes, California.  Her book, Time As We Know It, can be purchased at marnaclarke.com.

"The Alchemist" Susan Friedman

“I have a fragile relationship with home. I had to move out of my studio on the mountain, my home in Half Moon Bay of 30 years. Like most people these days, I had to downsize. The ‘Edge of Forever’ series has to do with these kinds of transition and my rethinking of portraits. A lot of the women in my work are dear friends. My friend Kathy, the woman in this image, has a mysticism around her. She’s absolutely beautiful to me. ‘The Alchemist’ embodies my work. It depicts that moment of magic, of illusion I’m after. We’re seeing the hand through two pieces of glass, the camera lens and the bell jar. I am interested in a sense of mystery and movement, beyond what you think about when you think of the word ‘romantic.’ I’ve been trying to get away from that word.”

Susan Friedman’s collection was hung last year at Corden/Potts Gallery in San Francisco. The collection is still available for viewing by appointment in the gallery archives.

"Bedroom" Michael Hicks

“I am looking to transmit something familiar yet strange at the same time. I think about home in this way as well. I generally think about ways that the familiar can be rendered strange. I’m interested in creating a charged atmosphere and a psychology. In this image, there is an element of artifice. The rocks are piled here, but they’re not applying weight to the mattress. The elements are not very specific, so it brings you into the metaphorical psychical space. When people ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ I don’t know what to say. I’ve moved around a ton in the last 10 years. I think about that question now in terms of what makes me feel grounded. Where do I feel at home, and where do I feel comfortable? Is it in a domestic space or is it in the company of certain people? Or perhaps it is in a landscape, like the Jersey shore.”

Michael Hicks is currently an artist in residence in Ithaca, New York, and working on mockups for his upcoming book.