Hernie & Plume— Katherine Longly (The Eriskay Connection).

Book Review.

ISBN: 978-94-92051-54-7

Published by Photomonitor.
Written October 2020.

© Katherine Longly/The Eriskay Connection.

Wood-panelled walls, adorned with kitsch seasonal decorations, mementos, miscellanies (including an impressive collection of mismatched plates); shelves full with figures both plastic and porcelain— some vaguely familiar, others ornate and obscure. Amidst this all, an African grey parrot sits perched and a small terrier, poised in anticipation. The home and the world of Belgian married couple Blieke and Nicole presented in Katherine Longly’s photobook Hernie & Plume is one that seems vaguely familiar, borderline bizarre and full of eccentric clutter. However, the collaboration between artist and subjects goes beyond the trivialities of possessions: it is a telling, sometimes sobering and more often than not tender look at the harsh realities of life, of health (both physical and mental) and of an unidealised journey to a love that still remains today. What began as a chance Christmas encounter between artist and subjects, became a seven year project full of energetic, largely candid and flash-drenched photographs of the couple in their Belgian cabin. We are not only shown impersonal aspects of their daily realities, but what they eat, what they smoke and even how they entertain their guests: something that they’re both renowned and loved dearly for. Longly’s characteristically contemporary-styled images, paired with off-camera lighting and a close proximity to her subjects, makes each portrait seem equally endearing and worthy of focus; a quality loaned also to the inanimate objects around the home.

© Katherine Longly/The Eriskay Connection.

Interwoven between the artists photographs are images taken by the couple in her absence (using a disposable black and white camera supplied by the artist herself) printed on coarse recycled paper stock and inverted to give the impression of a photographic negative. Snippets from an interview between artist and subjects are shared amongst newspaper clippings of local past events, through which readers are given an insight into the former, younger lives of both Blieke and Nicole, though at are times left with questions regarding their exact significance and link. The interview content, candid, careful and insightful, has been edited to amplify the hardships and tenderness between the two over the years, printed over two distinct paper stocks, with the aptly named Majestic Silver contributing pleasant visual breaks within the edit. Arguably the publication’s most admirable hat tip to the couple is in the choice of cover stock; the use of their twee table cloth as a direct reference, as delicate and ornate as the real one is imagined to be.

© Katherine Longly/The Eriskay Connection.

If the aim of Hernie & Plume was to produce a visual meditation on happiness, sadness, youth and ageing; the conquering of some of these things and the embracing of others, then in many ways it succeeded. However, given the amount of years dedicated to the series, it does at times seem to be lacking a level of intimacy reflective of the collaboration’s length. Still, Hernie & Plume opens up a stranger's home for the world to see what the everyday looks like in the context of an ageing couple, and with the amount of gatherings, fun and happiness they have amidst issues both current and past, we too can take away lessons on life and the importance of celebrating and embracing the present.