Charles Rozier’s new photo book chronicles the life of his family for 40 years
Titled House Music, the series comprises an archive of portraits taken since the 1970s. Charles tells us about the challenges faced while working on a project of this kind.
- Ayla Angelos
- 11 February 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
As with many long-term commitments, there are bound to be some challenges faced along the way. For Charles Rozier, it was his 40-year-long photography project that spurred on some characteristically difficult hurdles. Titled House Music, this new book – published by Dewi Lewis – sees Charles chronicle the seemingly mundane moments of his family’s lives, something he started during the late 1970s.
For Charles, his photographic journey began in his younger years – a time in his life that was very much defined by his interest in the medium. Despite not coming from a visually oriented background or having been exposed to much “serious” photography, it was a Henri Cartier-Bresson's book of portraits that really gave him some parental guidance. Stunned by his work, however, this transpired into feelings of inferiority. “Eventually, feeling very much in his shadow, I had to start all over again, now using a small camera with a fixed lens,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Working as casually as I could, I made a series of spontaneous portraits of the people around me.” This casual quest soon evolved and ended up bring a series that he continued to work on during art school as an industrial designer. “My portrait series continues to this day and is the material from which House Music is excerpted.”
Now defining his practice as one that’s “decades-long”, Charles notes that, when combined, his mammoth archive of portraits can become “something of a narrative”. But it was always going to be tricky one to compile the archive into a logical sequence of events, yet rest assured, it was a task worthwhile. Then as the years went by, so did the progression of technology; over the course of 40 years, Charles witnessed the changing nature of the camera where, in 2001, he switched “abruptly” from the classic 35mm monochrome film to a low-res digital colour. “The monochrome film of 25 years suddenly felt vintage – a craft,” he says. “Seven years later, I changed again to high-resolution colour, both medium format film and digital. Each of these three phases imposed its character on the pictures, but the basic approach has never changed.”
Despite the altering state of technology at this period in time, the nature of Charles’ project never diverged. “For the House Music book, I spent several years on and off tinkering with the imagery, and then eventually worked with two experienced editors,” he explains. “The final edit was guided by Joan Lifting and I’m (uncharacteristically) happy with it.”
While viewing the series, Charles’ spontaneous, snapshot-style of photography shines through. Working continuously with a camera at hand – or nearby, at least – Charles has a knack for capturing an event, never missing the opportunity to find those golden moments. “If I have a creative process, it has to do with noticing things and keeping a camera around,” he adds, avoiding the use of a definitive method of working. One of these things is the gentle hum of family life, where a young girl plays with her toys, his wife cleans the stove or a family member accidentally hurts themselves in the kitchen – the simple things that occur within ordinary surroundings, yet make for extraordinary photographs.
What’s noticeable too, is Charles’ conscious decision to split the book into two halves, where black and white photographs lead and are subsequently followed with colour. This not only signifies the amount of time put into the project – where the transition in camera technology becomes clear – but also the time spent learning his craft and witnessing his family grow.
When asked about his reasons for turning a lens on the lives of his family for so long, Charles answers that it was unavoidable. “Given that I was already well into the long-term series of portraits of people around me, it seemed pretty much inevitable when I had a family that it would move to front and centre,” he explains. “Some sort of book had always been at the back of my mind from the beginning, but it wasn’t until much later that I decided to base the book on the family years.”