“Someone recently asked me if I took a bunch of LSD with my parents and watched a lot of Wes Anderson movies [to make these photographs],” Irish photographer Enda Burke says of his vibrant, surreal tableaux of domestic life during lockdown collected in the series Homebound With My Parents.
Inspired by artists including William Eggleston, Larry Sultan, Alex Prager, Gregory Crewdson, and Phillip-Lorca diCorcia, Burke transports us into an oversaturated, dreamlike world staring his parents as protagonists in a series of scenes of daily life that transform the mundane into the magical — a recipe he concocted to cure the pandemic blues that cast a pall around the globe.
In Burke’s photographs, we find ourselves reveling in spectacle rendered with reckless aplomb, understanding exactly what Lewis Carroll meant when he wrote Alice in Wonderland’s philosophy of the world: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Here, Burke shares his journey to create a trip unlike any other one you will ever take.
Can you take us back to March 2020 before lockdown and give us a sense of where you were in your life before the COVID-19 pandemic began?
“I was working part time and living with my parents in the west of Ireland. I enjoyed going on road trips. I would usually shoot street photography at every opportunity but when the pandemic hit, the streets were empty so I decided to photograph the people I saw everyday, which were my parents.”
Could you speak about the measures taken in Ireland to battle the virus, and how these conditions affected you and your parents?
“I remember the start of the pandemic there was a panic and gloominess in the air. I think what was most frightening part was fear of the unknown. I needed a distraction to take my mind of the seriousness of the situation. When I started the series I wanted to inject humor and vibrant colors as an antidote to the dark and gloom that came with COVID.
“As for the situation in Ireland, the country went into lockdown with a five kilometer exclusion zone around each county and all the shops closed. My Mam was quite vulnerable to catching COVID so I remember being extremely strict for the first two months .I don’t think I saw anyone but my parents for those while of the pandemic.”
When did you begin thinking about the series Homebound With My Parents and how did they respond when you presented the idea to them?
“Because I couldn’t do street photography I knew I would have to get creative and improvise. I was lucky that my parents were open to the idea. My Mam likes to paint and is a big fan of colors and my Dad loves literature and writes short stories. I feel the series is a blend of these two genres. Working with them was chill with zero pressure. Because I have known them all of my life it’s very casual. That said my Mam is not such a fan of me tearing the house aside down but other than that they are happy to have been a part of its success.”
How did you conceptualize the individual shoots — did you have specific references you were working from and were your parents involved in any manner in the conceptualization process?
“I wanted to bring humor to the mundane so I observed and researched what tasks we do on a daily basis. Before I begin a project, I always start a new sketchbook for ideas, research, inspiration, development, and brainstorming — all that stuff. I didn’t put the camera to my eye for at least three weeks into the sketchbook. I also bounced some ideas off my parents, which helped.”
The scenes are beautifully staged. Can you share any inspirations or references for the color palettes, patterns, and props in the photographs?
“A lot of my ideas came from a previous street photograph I captured that didn’t quite work; I borrowed one idea or element from it and incorporated it into the series.
“I love working with kitsch items and anything old fashioned. The idea to work with vintage props came when I noticed as lockdown continued I was feeling nostalgic and replaying memories of what had been. I read an article saying how it was a common phenomenon for people to daydream nostalgic thoughts as a form as escapism from the pandemic.
“As for the Catholic iconography, growing up in Ireland in the 1990s I would always see religious images in people’s homes. These images fascinated, amazed, and also bewildered me.”
Can you speak about how the process of making this series helped to lift your spirits during the long stretches of monotony, and how the creative process was a way to find light in an otherwise dark landscape?
“It was such a great distraction for me. Getting some momentum and positive feedback from my friends and through Instagram kept me wanting to make more. I know social media gets a bad rep these days but I found sharing my work and seeing people getting a kick out of the series was great to see.
“The set building is a lot of work but they were really fun to build and to collaborate with my parents was great. I was enjoying making the series so much at one point I remembered I didn’t want the lockdown to end strangely enough!”
All images: © Enda Burke