Soft and Sentimental Summer Photography

Summer is traditionally a time of nostalgia. Memories are built on long days of warm weather, leisure time away from the everyday responsibilities of life and a feeling of freedom. We remember summer days in a haze of light and sentimentality.

This year, summer has looked a little different. I’ve been experiencing some health issues that have meant missing out on a lot of the carefree summer spirit that would usually come with the season. And when suddenly finding yourself in a very different place to where you anticipated being, it’s easy to slip into a mindset of comparison and retrospection about the whole situation.

Finding nostalgia in the everyday

I started thinking a lot about nostalgia and how we experience memory. While I’ve not been well, I’ve been spending more time at my parent’s house, the house where I grew up. What I’ve noticed is that the things that have brought me the most peace and comfort there are not the big summer events, but the small and incidental things that we often don’t think twice about.

My experience of this house has changed since I lived there – the house itself has changed as my parents have put their own stamp on it after my siblings and I have moved out and I am also a different person now, with a family and a home of my own. Memory is interesting in the way we experience different times and places at the same time, existing in both the past and present and seeing things through a combined perspective of the person we were and the person we are now.

More often over the last decade, the times I’ve been at my parent’s house have been for a specific purpose – family dinners, helping out with a project, dropping our cats off when we’ve been travelling or taking care of the house while my parents have been away. This feels like the first time in a long time that I have been over there just to be, to sit quietly with a book or my laptop or to wander around the garden with my camera and to simply be in the presence of other people while they did their own things.

And suddenly there is a rush of nostalgia, made up of both old familiar things and new things that feel like old things. The smell of pine from the real Christmas tree (our family tradition is still to all go and buy a tree together and decorate it but I’ve missed the experience of just having it in my space). The sound of the cricket on TV in the background and the clunking hum of the air conditioning unit that is still going after 40 years. The kettle being boiled regularly throughout the day and cups of tea rested on whatever clear surface can be found within arm’s reach. My sister’s foster kitten curled up at my feet on the couch. Bare feet on the kitchen tiles. The rose bush blooming in the front garden. In these moments I can forget for a second that my body is ill and the world feels like a safer and kinder place to be.

Almost out of instinct I picked up my camera and began to shoot – fragments of things that had no particular meaning except that I felt drawn to them somehow. I shot in familiar places, my home, my parent’s garden, the park where we have coffee every week. Dandelions in the front lawn. The light through the curtains. Flowers and fruit given to us by friends. A moth on the window. The sun through the trees outside our house. I put the images together and found new stories and connections, building an overall sense of a particular space and time.

I wanted to capture the soft sentimentality I was feeling. I wanted the photographs to feel like memories.

Expressing sentimentality

Nostalgia so often presents a romanticised version of memory – a longing for a time and place that is made up of all the little moments, smells, sounds and feelings, some of which we may not even be consciously aware of. How often do we document these things? How often is summer actually made up of the way the light falls when the sun is high and bright and the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of bees humming and the hot ground under your feet?

And so, my summer photography this year became gathering of fragments, memories and passing moments, a search for signs of life, a reclaiming of shadow and light and a coming home to my own sentimental nature.

These images were largely shot on a Sony mirrorless – a camera I’ve owned for a while but never really taken to. In using a tool I was less familiar with, I could shoot these images almost like summer snapshots with the focus on capturing the moment as it was.