KayLynn Deveney

Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

ISBN 978-1-56898-704-0 Hb


KayLynn Deveney, a former news photographer on the Albuquerque Tribune, met 85-year-old retired aero-engine mechanic Albert Hastings when she moved to Newport, Wales, to study for a photography MA in 2001. So began a five-year project in which she photographed her near neighbour in his surroundings. Extended documentary portraiture is rarely attempted nowadays, but this compassionate and moving little book serves as a model for how it can be done well.

We glimpse Albert’s bookshelves (thrillers), his food (white sliced), his ‘p-jays’ hanging up to dry, his choice in TV programmes, his somewhat threadbare surroundings and ageing possessions. But not all is as you’d expect. The images are captioned with chirpy humour by Albert himself, in a fastidious and florid style of handwriting that has not been taught for generations. We learn of his former hobby as a clockmaker. In one remarkable image we see him sunbathing in underpants, socks and shoes in the carpark next to his flat on a cloudy day, with a cup of tea on the tarmac by his elbow. Every life is exceptional.

            Albert died in 2007, a fact that underscores the melancholy inherent in a series of pictures of an old man living alone, and generally depicted alone, surrounded by photographs from the past – including that of his wife who died young in 1958. The quirkiness of Albert’s character and his cheerful manner add to, rather than offset, this work’s touching qualities, its evocation of the universal experiences of ageing, mortality and loss.