I Left My Grandmother’s House, Victoria Hely-Hutchinson, Libraryman, 2023, 23 x 29 cm, 68 pages, HB, edition of 700, ISBN: 9789188113610
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For I Left My Grandmother’s House, Victoria Hely-Hutchinson (b. 1984, British) turns not only her eye, but her ear as well to her extended family in Austria, merging fragments of family lore with keenly observed photographs. The work neither provides a tidy critique of the extant aristocracy, nor does it blithely venerate the decor, saying “ooooh,” while rolling the brocade curtains between its fingers. Instead, it simply shows and tells, through the disembodied perspective of familial subjectivity. It interrogates history but receives only demure shrugs in response.

The heart of the project lies in the darkly comedic stories told over dinner by Hely-Hutchinson’s domineeringly charismatic (or is it charismatically domineering?) grandmother, an Austro-Hungarian countess, who ran away with her family’s English foreign exchange student (later known as Grandpa Hugh) at age 16, and now lives a life of ease in the French Riviera, captured with great sensitivity in Hely-Hutchinson’s documentary Vacances. Hely-Hutchinson set out to Austria, with her Grandmother’s name to unlock some portcullises, and get a seat at the dinner table.

Like the stories themselves, Hely-Hutchinson’s photographs are often unresolved, sometimes riddles, sometimes poems. Is a bat loose in the house a symbol? A nod to the old expression of eccentricity, “bats in the belfry?” A visual representation of the outside world intruding upon a fortified space? In these photos, specificity and metaphor collide, and never say excuse me.

The book contains a preface by the author.

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