KayLynn Deveney


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings 


KayLynn Deveney is a photographer and lecturer at Belfast School of Art at the University of Ulster. Originally from New Mexico her work deals with the ways contemporary and historical photographic diaries and self-books address myths of domesticity. Her first book The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings was published by Princeton Architectural Press in August, in 2007 and has received critical acclaim and numerous awards worldwide. Her series, All You Can Lose is Your Heart has recently been published by Kehrer Verlag. She talks with me here about Bert and her working methods.

Sharon Boothroyd: Tell us a little about Bert and how you met him. When did you notice him? How did the project begin?

KayLynn Deveney: Bert and I lived in the same neighbourhood in Wales. I noticed him watering the garden from Fairy Liquid bottles that he filled and brought outside the building where he lived. In the absence of a garden hose, this was the only way to get water to the plants. That effort seemed to indicate a special person to me.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings by KayLynn Deveney

What were your aims for the work when you set out on this collaboration?

KLD: I am interested in projects that disrupt the stereotypical documentary approach. It was important with this work that Bert be a co-author rather than a “subject”. Bert wrote his captions without interference from me, and in this way his voice was factored into the story and encountered at the same time the images were being viewed.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings 

It is very much a collaboration. How did this work out? What do you think is the most important component(s) of making collaboration between subject and artist work for both parties?

KLD: I would say the most important thing is that the collaborators both (or all) feel some responsibility for the work and feel that their individual voices, or messages, are heard clearly. This can be difficult to achieve, and the desired amount of input in a project changes with each person and each project. Discussion, evaluation of work, and complete transparency along the way are all obviously very important.


When pairing the image and text did you leave this down to Bert? How did you work out the text for each picture?

KLD: I brought Bert a notebook with contact-sized prints taped in and he captioned the prints on his own. Each image is presented with its original caption. There are more image and caption pairs than were used in the book. I made the final book edit on my own and based it on the strength of the pairing.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings

Can you tell us something about the editing process. For example did the editing process differ when you were making the book than when it was for exhibition? What were these differences and how did you navigate them?

KLD: The book came together very naturally. It echoes the notebooks that Bert and I kept plus some additional poems, drawings, photos, etc. that belonged to Bert. Exhibiting the work has been more difficult. Because I have wanted the balance between the words and images to stay as even and equal as possible, I have primarily exhibited the work in the relationship that exists within the book–small images and actual-size handwriting. It has been difficult not to want to show some of the stronger images as big prints, but I think to do that would undermine the philosophy of the project.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings 

The pictures themselves are intimate and also observational. Does this resonate with you? Do you see yourself as a taking a documentary approach here?

KLD: I would say I take a documentary approach in that I do not stage images or ask people to do or repeat certain actions. However, I would say the work is not documentary because I don’t think it is objective and I don’t really believe in the possibility of an objective approach. I have a vision of Bert and he has another vision of himself and every viewer brings an additional perspective. I would say the work is best defined as a photographic collaboration. I would say my photographic practice, up to this point, could best be described as “subjective documentary”.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings

You have a background in photojournalism. How have you evolved as an artist since then and what do you think makes a good documentary photography piece now?

KLD: I realise now that the newspaper I worked for for nine years was unlike any other. We worked on long documentary projects that we proposed. These projects were unstaged, multi-layered, close stories that were often published in special sections of the newspaper. Twice in my time working for the Albuquerque Tribune I worked on projects for a year before they were published. My own photographic practice has remained consistent with my early practice in many ways, but the major shift has been in the context in which my work is presented. I had many close friendships with people that I photographed while working for the newspaper, but these relationships were not acknowledged in the presentation of the work. Now, working in book and exhibition format, I am able to be clearer about how both the relationships and the work are formed. My project with Edith and Len Crawshaw is a very good example of this shift in context. It’s visible on my website at www.kaylynndeveney.com.


From the series All You Can Lose is Your Heart 

How has The day-to-day life of Albert Hastings influenced your wider photography path? Can you tell us a little about what you are working on now?

KLD: I have a new book coming out in November! It’s titled All You Can Lose Is Your Heart. This project is different in some ways and similar in others. I had lived away from New Mexico for many years and when I returned I felt that I wanted to make a piece of work about my home. I wasn’t sure what that meant until I started photographing storybook-style ranch (or Cinderella ranch) homes, and then I wound up photographing “home” in New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Oklahoma. Storybook-style ranch houses were a blip on the American architectural radar in the late 1950s very early 1960s. They have rooflines that curve up at the ends, diamond-pane windows, and scalloped fascia boards that look like icing on a cake. They are polite houses built in the idealism following the Second World War. The interesting thing about them in the American West is that they look like little chalets sitting incongruously among big desert cities. More than 50 years after their building, some of the houses have begun to reflect the economic and social challenges that have weighed on the American experience. It is both the promise and the struggle that these houses evidence that interests me. There are no people in the majority of the photographs, but there are people behind every photograph. For me, the connections between the last two projects lie in the attention to, and documentation of, the small acts that speak to who we are and what we value. Just as I photographed the wind-broken daffodil that Bert carefully placed into a cup and secured upright with a small rubber band, I also photograph the freshly painted bright pink trim that almost made it to the top of the house, the nearly transparent fence that affords a thin veil of privacy for the inflated pool in the front yard, the peppermint lights that declare Christmas on a warm, green California lawn. Inside the homes, stories are, of course, complex, emotional, and highly individual. But from a perspective outside, slightly removed and quieter, the details evidence something of what the collective “we” hopes for and achieves. So, no overt collaboration this time, but I remain interested in all the little stories and narratives that are evidenced in the ways we amend and arrange the things around ourselves. If you are interested in this new work you can see it at www.kaylynndeveney.com, where you can also pre-order the book.


From the series All You Can Lose is Your Heart 

Purple House 001

Purple House 001

From the series All You Can Lose is Your Heart