When most of us think of family photography, we think of images imbued with nostalgic memories of warm childhood houses and an age of innocence. Photographer Charles-Henry Bédué uses this concept as a starting point for his ongoing series The House of Happiness, but instead of capturing the happy connotations of domestic life, he photographs the darker, somewhat disturbing corners of the family home.
The idea is informed by the “tender and cruel” nature of fairy tales; stories suffused with happily-ever-afters and unending evil at the same time. As a result, Charles-Henry depicts the family house as “a spiritual playground, an imaginary space populated by symbols and enigmatic images”. He began the series by documenting his own family house twelve years ago. After a year he extended the project to include other people’s families, using social networks and word of mouth to get in touch with unknown families to take part in the project.
Photographing a dozen different families in France over the last year, Charles-Henry remarks how this is “just the beginning” for his unique series. Recently published into a book of the same title, and printed in an edition of 300, it captures a different side to the family home, transforming banal moments into intimate works of photographic art.
In one image, a mother passes a child an orange. Though this action seems unremarkable and perfectly ordinary, Charles-Henry elevates it to appear more like a Renaissance painting. Highlighting the dusky blue light shining through the window to eerily frame the majestic-looking moment, Charles-Henri’s captures idiosyncratic moments of intimacy such as these through a sinister lens. In a similar vein, all of the images in The House of Happiness reconstruct family photos into something more mysterious.
“My aim is to transform a person’s feeling from one particular day,” says the photographer. As well as capturing a certain emotion, he also hopes to translate “a relational and artistic experience” from behind the lens, to the forefront of the image. “My photos are invitations,” Charles-Henry adds on his work. For a long time, he contemplated the purpose of his photography, questioning his imagery “in a world that is completely saturated with other images”. Eventually, he realised that photographs can be much more than the objects themselves – “an image is not an end in itself” he says “but a means to unite”. With this in mind, Charles-Henry hopes to not only unite oneself with others, but also to unite the viewer with themselves by looking at the work and questioning its meaning. But fundamentally, for Charles-Henry and the subject, the most enjoyable part of the project is that “it is fed by the unexpected desire of the stranger, that’s the most exciting part for the subject, and for [Charles-Henry], to have an experience to share” that unites the two.
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