Enda Burke spent confinement with her parents in Galway City, on the west coast of Ireland. As a street photographer, with the street life on hold, he decided to focus on the people closest to him. The result is an award-winning series, Homebound With My Parents, which turns confinement into theater. Its luminous and exuberant chromatic landscape – cotton candy pink, sunflower yellow and turquoise – offers “an antidote to the gloom of the Covid”. It is an offer for “vitality, humor, a form of escape”. To make this shiny new world a success, Burke turned the family home upside down and meticulously built each set himself. He ordered his retro items online, hung wallpaper, and broke through his parents in their new lockdown roles.
When I ask him how they reacted to the hijacking, the 33-year-old reports that his parents are “very easy going”, and says they laughed a lot together. “I told them, ‘You are actors – it’s acting and people really like it. “” In an introduction to his series, he reveals a fascination with the “monotony associated with family life during the pandemic,” but life in Galway City during the creation of these photographs appears to have been anything but monotonous.
The pictures are witty: Tesco Value Dad might have been depressing if he hadn’t been completely redeemed by eccentric juxtapositions. Christ preaches above his head while Dad watches a Miami travel program on TV. Garlands wrap around a table, and an ornamental pyramid of uncooked Brussels sprouts is close at hand. It’s Christmas confined – with a tropical twist.
In Mam lifting weights in the lock gym, the Virgin Mary appears parked in front of a pink curtain. Savoring a cigarette, Mam seems more likely to bring a can of beer to her lips than to increase the weight on her knees. Burke had “read about home exercise during the lockdown and knew it was skyrocketing.” He confirms that his mother has never been to the gym in her life. Her father worked for the city council before retiring. Her mother, who is an artist and loves interior design, has always been a housewife. Dad Ironing Socks is symbolic of futile lockdown activity (Burke included a football sock from his home team: Mervue United). Above him is a photo of Pope John Paul II – for sentimental reasons: “My parents got married the day Pope John Paul came to Galway in September 1979 – his visit was a big deal huge.”
As a child, Burke felt “mesmerized” by religious imagery – his home, “like most Irish households”, had its fair share. “I remember seeing these pictures and thinking: who are these people? They are beautiful in a strange way. He remembers Saint Patrick on top of a cliff with snakes, a “cruel” painting. His own use of religious imagery is not evangelical but “neutral”. When I say that his religious iconography appears conspicuously dissociated from the domestic scenes he imagined, he seems surprised. I suggest that his icons lead parallel lives. He does not disagree, but comments that they are also important because: “People find comfort in them. “
We’re talking about stuck hair – crazy Covid haircuts. He admits: “My mom gave me a lot, they were pretty good.” Dad not only has a mam haircut, he also has a perm. Daddy under the hairdryer reading a newspaper evolved after Burke got a 1950s hair dryer from the Irish equivalent of Craigslist. In the ensuing barber shop image, an ’80s Eastern European footballer is the icon of choice. With each image, Burke explains, it “would interact with a room, it would become a collaboration.”
He plans to make a book from Homebound With My Parents and, building on his success, wants to experiment with a different approach to photography. He wants to do more theatrical and narrative pieces. Lockdown revealed a new way of working in which the camera has become secondary – “more like a tool” – because so many other things have happened: “I would be building a set and wondering : What is the next step ? And then I remembered: OK, I better take my camera… ”