Editor’s letter: home is where the heart is

Our interior life must be cherished in all its chaos, says Jo Ellison

Photographer Peter Langer’s image of his own home
Photographer Peter Langer’s image of his own home | Image: Peter Langer

Among the many commemorations that have been scuttled to the fringes of the news agenda in recent months, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the attending programme of educational events designed to coincide with it, has been one of the more lamentable. The liberation was marked at the end of January. But much of the work undertaken by foundations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust – which works to preserve and share the testimonies of camp survivors – has had to move online. 

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison | Image: Marili Andre

Instead of visiting schools or doing public speaking, the survivors are now taking part in Q&As on social media and meetings over Zoom. And while the sessions have provided invaluable insight, they’ve also offered some lessons in how to spend it now. Here is the analysis of Kitty Hart-Moxon, for example, a 94-year-old Auschwitz survivor who, when asked to describe her routine in isolation today, replied: “Doing my daily workouts, going to the park, getting food, on Zoom calls. In the ghetto, there was real hardship. Disease was rife. No medication or sanitation… We will get through this.”

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Her upbeat pragmatism is echoed by Harry Olmer, 92, who was sent to Kraków-Plaszów with his father and brother in 1942. “We have to be positive,” he said, when asked to comment on the coronavirus crisis. “We are still alive.” It’s an attitude Olmer has carried throughout his life. Even in Plaszów. “I never ever thought of not living,” he said. “It never crossed my mind that I would not live.”

Photographer Kuba Ryniewicz’s picture from his home on the Montagu Estate, Newcastle upon Tyne
Photographer Kuba Ryniewicz’s picture from his home on the Montagu Estate, Newcastle upon Tyne | Image: Kuba Ryniewicz

There has been no shortage of analysis about the Covid-19 crisis: how society will change and things will never be the same. There is so much doom-saying and morbidity. Olmer and Hart-Moxon don’t offer solutions for how to rewrite the future, they are simply realistic: we must get on with the now. They remind us also how even in these exceptional circumstances the majority of us are lucky enough to have homes, a WiFi connection and access to food. We have much to be grateful for. This too shall pass. 

Photographer Linda Brownlee’s home in Sanxenxo, Galicia, Spain
Photographer Linda Brownlee’s home in Sanxenxo, Galicia, Spain | Image: Linda Brownlee

And so, for this issue of the magazine, we’ve been inspired by the state of being at home, serving up a range of comforts from baking to bedlinen, and from the ultimate kitchen coffeemaker to recipes that evoke the hills around Florence. We’ve also asked some of our favourite How To Spend It photographers to share an image that encapsulates their home, along with a short quote about what the word means to them (“At Home: A Photographic Study”). More usually required to shoot fine jewellery, fashion or portraiture, here they offer a gentler portrait of their lives. And despite the global reach of the locations, the subject quickly lends itself to universal themes: the particular charm of bathtime, the contents of kitchen cupboards and fridges, vases of fresh-cut flowers and the sacred space of one’s cherished childhood home. 

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In a world driven by Instagram and social-media visuals, what I love is that these pictures seem so real. None is especially curated, nor do they try to be the distillation of a perfect life. Instead, they celebrate the messy chaos of family existence, the most quotidian of moments and the quieter solitudes of our later years. They are testament to being alive, and to the clutter of togetherness. They celebrate the detritus that binds.

Now, weeks into the lockdown, we’ve all had long to contemplate the walls within which we live. What says “home” to you? We want to have a look. Email your images to howtospendittogether@ft.com and we’ll present a reader portfolio in future weeks. 

@jellison22 

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