Discarded With Honour

A photographic project about letting go

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, of what last year and the first half of this one has meant to people as well as myself.  I do know that there is a strong element of ‘good riddance to 2020’ by needing to leave behind the fear and jail-like existence we’ve felt for many months throughout. Though I cannot help wondering how to let go of this time with some honour? As there have certainly been some reflective and creative moments in my world over the past 18 months. What with new virtual friendships and supporting communities being made along the way.  So I don’t feel that it should be just this pandemic that gives 2020 its bookmark to go down in history.

Discarded With Honour is a social documentary photographic project with a growing collection of images and stories. Where I want to give the people I meet, the chance to offer gratitude and a visual legacy to the possessions that no longer serve them and that could now be bringing them a sadness or frustration rather than joy.

This is a ceremonial goodbye for some objects as they leave home. Or the honour of a story around a possession they know they cannot part with, but need to purge.

Most of us surround ourselves with artefacts for a reason, a connection and story. In many cases there comes a time for them to be let go. Whether it’s because we don’t want them anymore or that we cannot keep them. It is these possessions that have been of part of our lives and they each hold many layers of memories for us.

It’s fair to say that I’ve spent more time than usual in my home over the past year. As well as the need to let go of clutter, I’m also painfully aware that some of these familiar piles of objects are now taking space without the joy or purpose they once gave to me. In fact,

I’m starting to feel the pangs of sadness when I look at them or clean around them, or know they’re laying in a black bag ready to go off to a charity. Almost like I don’t care but I do care, maybe too much.

I’ve been noticing these little pockets of sunlight, falling around our house at different times of the day. Peeping through the blinds as stripes and landing on certain stairs at certain times. It’s my daily observations that make me want to take these discarded objects and bask them in their own moment of glory for one last time.

Like the family bath toys we still keep around the tub. No longer played with, yet I’m not ready to part with them as I can hear her infectious young child’s laughter while she flooded the bathroom with these toys in her games. I was taking a shower the other day and I looked down to see this single beam of stage light bursting through the curtain. It was then I realised I needed to give these toys a centre stage, their final curtain call.

My friend Jemma lives down the street from me. She’s a got a garage full of treasures she cannot part with. There’s a case of full of baby clothes once worn by her 14-year-old daughter. “My parents kept everything of mine” said Jemma. “I moved away after getting married, so it’s lovely to go through my childhood remembering the stories of wearing or playing with them, whenever we go and visit” she adds, “I want this for her, but we’ve just not got the space.”

I photographed my daughter’s bedroom a few years ago. We were swapping her little child’s bedroom over to her teenager’s knock-before-entering kingdom. I remember photographing each treasure as it lay, thrift-shop jewellery pieces, collected stones, faded animal posters and her artwork.  In a moment of needing to explore the familiar, soon to be unfamiliar and immortalising this time of our family life.

Then the time I helped to pack up my late grandmother’s house. I’d chosen the ornament I wanted to keep and wrapped it in one of her laundered hand towels to protect it on the journey home.

I could still smell her house and the perfume she wore. I tried to preserve it by wrapping this towel in a sealed plastic bag and placing it a box, just to inhale when I needed reminding of her scent. I went back to this towel a year later and the scent had gone. I was heart-broken, but yet I still cannot part with this towel.

By photographing and engaging others to think about how they hold on to possessions, I’m hoping it will be a cathartic process, as well as helping to heal some difficult memories for people with their stories.

I want to bring audio into the project as well, by recording the stories of others and why they connect to these various objects. It gives another layer to this project and hopefully gives each person a deeper acknowledgement of gratitude in saying goodbye. With it a sense of freedom and affirmation that honouring and releasing this possession with a memory can bring.


As featured in Juno Magazine Spring 2021

If you are interested in finding out more about Discarded With Honour and perhaps taking part, please email me at jo@johaycockphotography.co.uk

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