Discarded With Honour | A Photographic Project

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

The radio playing 'school bag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning'

Her alarm clock rang before 6am. She walked into our bedroom and calmly whispered "mum, are you awake?" It felt like my eyes had been blasted with sand. Even so, the tone of her voice didn't go unnoticed ...this was the new voice of a Year 7'r.

I sat quietly in her bedroom watching her, with my cup of tea in one hand, camera in the other, a range of emotions bubbling quietly away inside of me. Thinking of how proud I was to be her mum and how honoured that she was allowing me the privilege of photographing this part of her journey. I also had a strong feeling of reassurance right there, knowing she'll be fine. More than fine.

My not-so-little girl started secondary school this week. I could write reams here about the first time we met, gazing into those just-born eyes and imagining this day, not so far away. I can't help think about all the kindly souls with their well-meaning advice over the years.

"Raising babies to children to adults is like a time machine whizzing you through the events, the years, the worlds. Then before you know it BAM, you'll be seeing her off to high school, university, a new life." 

For some time now, she's put her hand up to her face whenever I pick up my camera. She's pleaded with me, I've pleaded with her. Using only my eyes lately to freeze time while she's lost in a game or reading a book, when the artist in me is itching to make that image so much more. Casting my mind back to the last time I was allowed to hold up the camera briefly, just before the last bedtime book had ended.

So we made an agreement, she delivered on a promise, that I could photograph her from bed to door, as she leaves for the first time to her new school.

It's a huge change. These 11 year olds of ours are now off embracing the next adventure in their life. But from where I sat, on my own 11-year-old's bed, watching her tying her tie and combing out her bedhead, she was always more ready for this day than her mother was. I'd be wise take my lead from her...

owain and thomas

I spent a magical Sunday morning with this little man and his baby brother. Though a most unusual event occurred, as halfway through our morning, just as he was showing me his favourite game and some school certificates for amazing work... he left, just vanished. Suddenly I am face-to-face with Spiderman. Now these strange things can sometimes happen with no explanation at all. The next thing I know Spidey is bouncing on the bed, spinning webs around his brother's toys and generally saving the world, as you do when you are that kind of superhero.

"Mummy, can she (that's me) come back again tomorrow for a sleepover?" said Owain. By my reckoning, this has got to be the most heartfelt testimony to date. I have since told his mummy that I'd be delighted to, but only if he lets me raid his dressing up box next time!


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martha's dancing heart

Martha was born on the 10th of January 2015, checking into this big and beautiful world a whole five weeks earlier than planned. It was an emotionally charged journey for mum and dad, Michelle and Rick leading up to her birth, with regular hospital visits until this gorgeous little lady was able to come home some weeks later.

Michelle and Rick, along with Martha's big brother Will have decided to raise £10,000 for the Children's Unit at the University of Wales Hospital by her first birthday. Without the love, support and care from the Unit, things may have turned out very differently for this family.

I asked Michelle to write some words about her journey to meeting Martha and how she came to launch Martha's Dancing Heart...

On the 23rd of December I went for my routine 32 week check-up with the midwife, I'd had an amazing pregnancy and felt really well all the way through. I was looking forward to Christmas then welcoming our new baby girl in February.

The midwife did all the regular checks and all was fine, she then said she wasn't required to listen in to the baby's heart beat anymore, unless I asked her to. She was smiling as she said it and I laughed and asked her to listen in.

It quickly became apparent that all wasn't quite as it should be - our little girl's heart was beating twice as fast as it should and it wasn't long before I was in the hospital hooked up to a monitor having fluid pumped into me.

I was kept in overnight as they tried to stabilise her heartbeat - it was 240 bpm (a normal rate would be 100-140) - and allowed home at 8pm on Christmas Eve on a cocktail of heart drugs, needing to come back to the hospital daily for ECGs.

The next three weeks are a bit of a blur to be honest. Christmas came and went and new year passed with me regularly staying overnight at the hospital. The heart drugs I was taking were slowing my heart, but having little effect on our baby.  By Jan 9th my heart rate and pulse had fallen very low, so the consultants decided the safest option was an early delivery by c-section the following day.

On Jan 10th 2015 our daughter, Martha was born and diagnosed with a condition called PJRT ... it's a type of tachycardia and is basically an electrical short circuit in her heart. It's a condition that is rare in babies and needs to be controlled with medication.

Martha was cared for by the amazing staff at the Neonatal ward of University Hospital Wales, and the staff of the Children's Heart Unit for Wales, After four weeks we were able to take her home. She's now doing fantastically well, and we know that without the love and support of her hospital angels, she could have been very poorly.  So we want to say a huge thank you by fundraising in lots of different ways throughout the rest of 2015. We want to be able to donate at least £10,000 to the Children's Unit at UHW before Martha's first birthday.

We'd love your help and support xxx