Work / Photography

Thomas Duffield on photographing his dad’s hidden heroin addiction

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Thomas Duffield

Photographer Thomas Duffield grew up in a creative family in a rural community outside of Leeds. The setting may sound idyllic but in reality, his father was struggling with a heroin addiction which he worked hard to mask from his kids.

With Larry Sultan’s Pictures From Home as his creative template for his final year project at University of Huddersfield, Thomas set to document his father’s addiction not through drug use, but through the echoes of the addiction on his family.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background?

I was born just over 21 years ago on the outskirts of Leeds, England. My family have always been creative with their time now that I think of it, we grew up on a small arable farm and I recall my mother painting rural scenes on the unsightly buildings. Previously, the farm belonged to my grandad who would work long hours on the farm and also do flower arrangements on a small scale for the local area. My older sister is a great artist using pencil and paint and somebody that I always looked up to. As for myself, through lack of dexterity I turned to the medium of photography to make work.

What was behind the decision to focus on your upbringing for your final project?
 
Throughout childhood my sister and I had space to grow and learn and we were always loved and allowed to be creative. Life was very charming and beautiful, which I sometimes took for granted at the time. We started out living in a small caravan on the farm. My parents were together and we all lived closely in the small space which had walls entangled with ivy. My father struggled with a heroin habit that was unknown to my sister and I at the time. Now that I have spoken to my mother about this, she explains that it was a difficult decision to make but as parents they had decided to keep this out of our knowledge in the fear that we would not understand. The project then looks towards this concealment that stemmed from a place of love and care, but also provided a form of catharsis by working through the untold and more troublesome enclaves of our family life.

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Thomas Duffield

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Thomas Duffield

Over what time period did you take the images in The whole house is shaking?

The project began as a graduate piece of work; this really allowed me to put lots of time and energy into the work, without worrying about too much else. I continued shooting for the project post graduation so the photographs took about 11 months to complete. The project takes final form in a photobook which I have worked on with Manchester-based publisher Tide Press for the past four months. The book launched in my home city of Leeds last week at Village book shop. Currently, I am still making photographs of a similar nature at home, although I’m not sure for what purpose at the moment. 

How did your family feel about being made the subject of the series? 

My family have been great and supportive of the work. At first it was quite confusing for them because it had taken me a while to fully understand what I was doing and why. After the first few months it became quite normal for me to have my camera around. I really tried to make the project sensitive and honest – I think that’s very important with personal work like this. My mother has been a real role model and in the past carried a lot of emotion regarding the subject of the project, and she says that it’s nice to see it materialised as a book which in ways pays tribute to her effort and support.  

What’s your relationship with your family like?

My relationship with my family is really good. It’s not always perfect, and is far from a typical nuclear family but there is a lot of love among us, which is important. I think the project has opened avenues of conversation within the family which is great. I have seen my father a whole lot more in the past year which is good, and during this time he undertook a detox.  

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Thomas Duffield

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Thomas Duffield

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Thomas Duffield