Nick Waplington, from Living Room, published 1991
Times change, that’s a given. There are several 1980s’ photo-books that make that very clear. Most, like Paul Graham’s Beyond Caring, offer a reminder of the nature of the public spaces we inhabited; pictures of home life tell a different, albeit related, story. Nick Waplington’s Living Room, published in 1991, depicts family life on the Nottingham council estate that was also home to his grandparents. Waplington documented the daily lives of two families over a period of several years; the pictures in Living Room are from the late 1980s, roughly a decade in to Margaret Thatcher’s time in office. This is family life in a country where industry has collapsed and society declared non-existent by the Prime Minister.
Life goes on, of course. This is a picture of family life played out against a backdrop of poverty. There is laughter and affection but there is also chaos and disorder. Working with the families over such an extended period and as an insider – not part of the family but as the grandson of neighbours – allowed Waplington to record daily life in a more intimate way than is often the case in documentary photography placing us, as viewers, in the room but unnoticed.
The neutrality of Waplington’s stance means this is a series without dramatic highlights but it’s this matter-of-factness that is the strength of the work. Waplington is showing us lives we may not otherwise encounter – few of us, after all, ever really see the daily lives of those outside our own families and social circles – without comment. That it’s clear that life isn’t easy is enough here; these families are typical and their lives are a struggle. We can extrapolate from the particular to the general to consider the fate of the working class when the work is gone.