Ken. To be destroyed

In 2011, my brother, sister and I inherited letters and photographs belonging to our uncle and aunt, Ken and Hazel Houston, from our mother Audrey Davidmann. It emerged soon after they were married that Ken was transgender. In the context of a British marriage in the 1950s, this inevitably profoundly affected both their own relationship and their relationships with others.

The archive contains letters, photographs and papers. Hazel and Audrey wrote to each other frequently in the late 1950s and early 60s, after Hazel discovered that Ken was transgender. These letters tell Ken and Hazel’s very private story. For the public Ken was a man, but in the privacy of the home Ken was a woman. 

The title for the project was taken from my mother’s writing on one of the envelopes. I began by photographing the family pictures and papers. I was particularly drawn to a set of photographs of Hazel taken by Ken. Looking at the photographs I became acutely aware of their surfaces. The marks of time and damage had become part of the images. This led me to work on the surfaces of the photographs I produced using ink, chalks, magic markers and correction fluid. Some of the photographs became thick with layers of paint and ink, and scratchings and rubbings through to earlier layers. In other re-workings of the pictures I physically cut or tore and reconfigured the prints.

I worked digitally to create fictional photographs of K  - a name I gave to Ken’s female identity - trying to imagine how K might have looked. I had digital negatives made and used hand colouring on black and white prints. I also worked in the darkroom with chemigram processes, applying the developer, fix and photographic bleach as if they were paint - bringing the image out of the surface of the paper through the marks I made and disrupting the original image I had made in the negative. 

Using a combination of digital and analogue photographic methods gave me a freedom to interpret the archive. Sometimes the processes led the outcomes and at other times elements of chance meant that the results took me by surprise, which in turn gave the project a life of its own.