Empty Rooms

by Steve

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A little while back, maybe weeks ago, maybe months (what is time anymore?), I began collecting images of empty rooms.

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They seemed significant in some way. Perhaps because so many rooms have been emptied. Homes, workplaces, other spaces. How we occupy space, and the spaces we (can) now occupy, has now changed.

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Maybe the significance was in seeing these spaces prior to all this. This is how things used to be. Spaces that could be filled. What did it once mean to be home? What was private space? What was it like to go from your own four walls to another four walls? Not just in our own lifetimes, but before that too. How did a sense of private space evolve? What have we still got?

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Or maybe the significance was in spaces that once could be empty, that now aren’t. Now an image of an empty room meant something else. A place that could no longer remain empty. Or maybe spaces that cannot be occupied, for now, for who knows how long. Safe spaces. And unsafe spaces.

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However, I’m not sure if the images are significant in their specificity or not. It also feels like any images are now loaded with meaning. Of representing before all this, or during all this, or after all this. All images viewed through the prism of now.

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But these kinds of scenes do now feel more vital. We can see ourselves removed from them. Forbidden places – either the place itself, or “the past” as a place. We can introduce ourselves to them too. Imagine ourselves somewhere other than our home – to travel, to retreat, to explore.

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On perhaps a more banal level, to have as our Zoom background. Although maybe that’s not so banal, insignificant. Our means of communicating with other human beings has fundamentally shifted. Our sense of the world we can occupy has shifted too. Personalising your surroundings, even virtually, is reclaiming a tiny piece of control. It is a way to assert a sense of self when you have become just a square on a bank of blank faces.

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And as people move back out into the world, for better or worse, for now or forever, these images take on something else too. A place people were. A place not everyone will return to.

Images from Internet Archive Book Images, British Library, Smithsonian Institution, Florida Memory, Mennonite Church USA, Internet Archive Book Images, Florida Memory, Library of Congress,