LAST NAMES AND OTHER FACES
By MICHAEL PERKINS
WHEN I WAS A CHILD, SEVERAL PICTURE BOOKS depicted the fronts of houses as if they were faces, with the windows roughly reminiscent of eyes, the roofline acting as a kind of hairdo, the door as the nose/mouth region, and so forth. One memorable Disney cartoon called The Little House gave benevolent and malevolent expressions to various buildings based on their role in the story. Skyscrapers always seemed to threaten: tidy, small cottages endeavored to charm. And so on.
I still think of the fronts on houses to be faces of a sort, or at least the house’s version of the public personas that we all adopt, the expressions we choose to present to the street as our visual signature. I love the design and detail choices that make a house’s face welcoming, or at times repellent, to those who stroll by. Additionally, when I can, I love to photograph neighborhoods where there is enough space between homes to allow for a kind of “last name” or second face for a house, based on what the less-than-primary things that are arranged there might hint at.
78 In The Shade, 2021
Such areas are often just a storage area for tools, from coiled garden hoses to rakes or wheelbarrows. Sometimes it features a backup building like a recessed garage or a shed. In these in-betweeny free-flowing spaces between homes, various gardening attempts might be made, unfinished projects may linger in limbo, or the space might merely be a small play area. In many cases, as in the above image, it also serves as a sneak peek to the neighboring streets that exist in their own special reality just beyond the rear of the lot.
The places we call home reveal more to the wandering camera than we suppose. Sometimes our attempt to protect our privacy from public view is, in effect, more revelatory than the chummiest welcome mats or bright flowers. Cameras help us in deciphering the codes by which we choose to engage with the world at large. The purely visual elements of those codes reward an extra second of a photographer’s curiosity.