Barbara Peacock investigates and explores that corner of the world where our heart rests, where onecan take their clothes off and wear their dreams for a second or even wear every night’s nightmares: our bedrooms.The pictures that make up American Bedroom are the perfect portrait of the most intimate side of people, the couples and families who dream big and at the same time hide some bits of their daily life. New York City, New England, North Carolina, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia are just a few of the place she has visited, and she is not planning to stop.
Barbara has been working for thirty years with art and photography, and if you ask her what it’s all about she’ll tell you that it’s a bit like dancing and a matter of instinct. American Bedroom is the kind of project that walks you through a cold, crammed and dim room, but she loves to experience the challenge and the authenticity that derives from it.
– Tell us about your project, how it was born and when did it start to progress
One morning I went to the window to look at the sunrise, and while I was getting back to bed I saw my husband lying on the bed, with his anti-snoring mask, and I giggled. Then while I was sipping my coffee next to him, I thought about what did I look like, lying next to him, with my eye mask and funky socks. It made me laugh so I started thinking what a bedroom can reveal about ourselves as individuals and as Americans. So I started travelling a little bit to photograph my subjects: a trip to North Carolina and West Virginia, then to Detroit and Atlanta. Right now I am in the deep South : Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia.
– American Bedroom could be seen as an anthropological study of the American population inits complexity, considering the diversity of the subjects you have chosen. It’s almost better than Bruce Springsteen’s songs!
[laughs] It’s a nice compliment and a good analogy! I always wanted it to be an anthropological study on human nature. It’s what I am trying to do.
– To allow a stranger, even if it’s a non-judgemental witness, to enter one’s bedroom / comfort zone it’s a great act of trust. Has it haver happen to you to be unable to complete a shooting, whatever the reason?
Yes, you are right, it’s a great act of trust. I have a deep respect for all the subjects I have photographed, I think they are very brave.In the first instance I talk to them to ensure they know we are working together and we discuss their comfort zone to know what they are willing – or not willing to do – to shoot a great picture. I would like to point out that I am trying to get as close as I can to the truth. I’d say about 90% of the times my subjects are completely invested in the project and are willing to challenge themselves. A little percentage is a bit sceptical about some elements of the shooting so we try to find some comfortable compromises. I am very clear with them: we are competing with all the rest of the pictures I have taken and I put a lot of effort in avoiding repeating what I have already pictured.
– You have a very natural way to put people at ease. Sometimes they strip off their clothes and some other times they strip off their dreams. I believe this requires a lot of empathy, is an hour enough?
I am a friendly and extroverted person so I think this helps making people feel comfortable. I always make it very clear to them that I don’t want just “something” from them, I want them to help me to create art. Some people are really at ease when they are naked, or maybe that’s how they sleep and it’s what they want. Whoever is naked in my pictures wanted to be naked, I would never push them.I often start by sharing contemporary art with my subjects, I have saved a selection of pictures on my phone. This has proven to be a great way to inspire both my subjects and myself. Sometimes I spend more than an hour with them…and above all, after I have taken the pictures I sit with them fora coffee and talk about life. This is my favourite moment, so I can gather more information on them.
– How much do you think it enrich you to be able to share intimate moments like the ones in American Bedroom?
It’s absolutely a soul-enriching experience. The scenarios are so raw and immediate. Sometimes I meet people in the street, or in a diner, other times I travel a lot to meet them but most of the times they are complete strangers. It’s like going hunting and then dancing. The hunting part is about finding people, and once I find them, it’s like a dance. The adrenaline raises when I keep the conversation going, while I evaluate the light and assemble my tripod and placing the camera. Once we start shooting, we keep ‘dancing’ until we create the best moment we can. I always feel euphoric and I know my subjects feel the same. Some of them have not had anyone who pays attention to them in a while, others like the idea of being “exposed” and photographed. Other people really want to be seen and tell their story. It’s often a touching experience for both the subject and the photographer.
– What do you feel when you shoot?
I feel completely and entirely full. Filled at full capacity of the essence of all the details in the world and of the life before me. Even if I have got a headache, or a cut or I am dead tired, when I am shooting I feel nothing but the desire of creating the story of these people’s lives. I feel a strong sense of duty about making it justice. It’s like I am holding my breath until I feel like I have created something worthy of them.