Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Colin Pantall
All Quiet on the Home Front

The first flat we lived in at Queens court was number 57. It was on the fourth floor of a delapidated art-deco building (that was once owned by the Beatles)  in Clifton, Bristol. We paid £350 a month for  two bedrooms. The kitchen was the main feature. It was about 6 feet square but had original 1930s features like a foldout table and ironing board. It was immaculately designed, but rundown as hell.

We got evicted from there by a housing association. Their liaison officer with the tenants was a guy called Christian Blackbeard. The name was perfect. The Housing Association renovated the flats, put the rents up to £650 a month, and used the money to build affordable housing.

We couldn’t afford £650 a month so we moved to another flat that wasn’t due for redevelopment. Our upstairs neighbours put the music on at 3am, one flat was a marijuana growhouse, and there was human excrement on the stairs because there was no lock on the entrance hallway. And then Katherine got pregnant. So, we decided to move.

There was nothing in Bristol for £350 a month but after looking a room in a house in St Andrews which had buckets and saucepans scattered around the living room (to catch the leaks), the very nice landlord Michael mentioned that he also had a 2 bedroom flat going in Bath; top floor with no buckets or saucepans. 

And that’s how we ended up in Bath, in a two-bedroom regency flat on Grosvenor Place for £450 a month. It had amazing views, a mouse problem, and ½ inch plumbing pipework that needed a macerator to get the waste down the toilet. Flush the toilet and you could hear the cogs grinding. I’ll never forget the sound of cogs grinding through shit.

Then Isabel was born. I co-cared for her with Katherine and she defined our worlds. These worlds both shrank and grew as our daughter became our first priority, our first point of focus. We both changed, we both lost one identity and gained another, an identity framed around parenthood, around this stranger that had come into our lives and taken it over so completely.

Isabel was an energetic child. When it was raining, she bounced around the flat, using the tables, chairs and doorframes as her climbing frame. We played, with me re-enacting stories from film and history with her doll’s house people for a break from the black hole of a child’s imagination. I re-enacted the Long March with Playmobil people, I used the Playmobil bicycle to play out The Shining. I did Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Exorcist (the Playmobil people’s heads go round really nicely). She still swears that by the time she reached the age of 4 I had wrecked the ending of every horror movie ever made.

As Isabel grew older, being confined in that top floor flat became increasingly claustrophobic. Life was limited. The key to my sanity was getting out of the house. We went to the parks, the allotments, the hills, and the woods near our home, we visited every marginal scrap of land and it became an escape from a domestic space into something quite different, where the sights and sounds and smells of the earth and the trees had a calming affect on us.

I’m looking back at these images now and realizing how that escape from the exhaustive qualities of a domestic interior has a particular resonance now, in the age of enforced Covid-19 isolation, in the age of childcare within the unwavering constant of four walls and a ceiling. The natural world, even one with such a heavy human stamp as the one we inhabited, has the ability to transport you outside yourself, to ground you into something beyond the constricted imagination of a mind framed by bricks and mortar. It’s a privilege not everybody has.

Colin Pantall is a writer, lecturer and photographer based in Bath, England. His work focusses on his immediate domestic environment and includes his book All Quiet on the Home Front, and his projects The Mental Load of Motherhood, Sofa Portraits and My German Family Album. He is interested in how environment, domestic space and family narratives overlap and interfere in our understanding of personal, visual, and political histories.

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