Jonathan Donovan: ‘ No Place Like Home’

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2 people living in boat
Haggerston, 2016: Image reproduced with kind permission by Jonathan Donovan

London. A city of over 8 million people. A vast, sprawling metropolis. A dense urban environment and centre of business, culture and history.

How do you even begin to visually represent this city? Where do you start?

In “No Place Like Home” Jonathan Donovan explores and exposes  London’s diversity through its people – their habitats and lifestyles.

He reveals the private spaces and closed doors of stately villas, social housing, squatter homes, narrowboats, flats, vans, shacks and modern extensions. He shows us: rich and poor; classical architecture and suburban semi; rental homes and homeownership.

Donovan tell us about life in London, as a time and a place. It is a slice through the heart of a huge city with a vast housing stock, that has been built and re-built over many centuries. And people live, and have to live, in odd places, or wherever they can.

These are more than just photographs. Donovan combines each image with a short audio so that we hear the resident’s voice and their story as snatches of dialogue.

Each image is beautifully shot and captures the quality and patina of each homespace. From a home that is cluttered with personal possessions to one that has only the bare basics of homelife.  People living up high, in the sky and down undergound. He contrasts the rich, ornate and multi-layered with the smooth, gleaming white. Home, as a small apartment shared with family, a house of multiple occupancy, and home, a van –  which, technically, is homelessness.

Pre-war, and post-war, suburban living for families and trendy apartments for city types. White stucco Georgian pillars and Edwardian terraces. Modernist towerblocks alongside Victorian villas, riverside apartment blocks and mansion blocks side by side with new social housing.

These are different people at different stages of life, with a past and future, with money in the bank – or not. People who work long hours, who share their home with strangers, who have a built a home for their families, who have inherited wealth and privilege, who suffer ill-health, or the difficulties of ageing.

Donovan enables us to put a face to a space, and vice versa. They are the same people we encounter in the street, that we work alongside, who serve us in shops, or we see on the underground, or on and from the bus. And this is where they live. And how it is for them. Because they must live somewhere – they have to sleep, leave and come back to some place they call home.

People who live in the same city but move in different circles and in different worlds. In public spaces our circles may overlap but in our private spaces we are worlds apart: segregated by wealth, opportunity, privilege and by space. Most of us will never be that person or have that lifestyle, that attitude, clothes, job, education and politics.  In our own world most of us will never know anyone like this, or see where they live.

Creative and inspirational, yet deceptively simple, Jonathan Donovan’s work gets to the heart of a hidden world. These are places  that most of us only ever see on TV: the police drama, fly on the wall documentary, costume serial, antiques show and news bulletin.  Rich and rounded, Donovan reflects the spirit of London: what people think, what they look like, where they live and what matters most to them. Most of all his work is a measure of who we are, and where we are, right now.

Nuala Rooney, PhD

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Nuala Rooney PhD, is a creative professional and award-winning author, currently developing new approaches to design innovation and spatial research through storytelling. With unique skillsets, developed as a design educator in Higher Education institutions in UK and Hong Kong, her interest lies in exploring 'home' as a human centred space.

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