Naomi Harris, Haddon Hall – Collector Daily

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 in collaboration between MASA and Void (here). Hardcover (20.5 x 27 cm), 176 pages, with 78 color images, and a postcard. Includes an essay by the artist. Cover design and typography by Void. Printed in 1250 copies. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)

Comments/Background: Haddon Room by Canadian photographer Naomi Harris is a striking photobook that captures the joyful, vulnerable and sometimes dark moments of old age. Her project began in the late 1990s when Harris was in Miami, where she originally planned to photograph Holocaust survivors. As she visited community centers and synagogues in search of her subjects, she came across the Haddon Hall Hotel, a place that offered relatively reasonably priced housing for senior citizens. She became fascinated with the community living in the hotel year-round as they flew south to escape the harsh cold of the northeast, and she eventually spent two and a half years photographing the ‘snowbirds’. and their daily routines. She helped them with groceries, played bingo, took them to medical appointments and beauty salons, and as a resident was able to capture more intimate moments as well. “Through trust and friendship, the people of Haddon Hall have accepted me into their lives.”

Twenty years later, the series is now published in a photo book, simply titled Haddon Room. In the book’s introduction, Harris notes that in editing photographs two decades later, his approach and outlook changed. Everyone she photographed has long since passed away, and Harris herself began caring for her aging parents. This book, she writes, “is an ode not only to the forgotten men and women of South Beach, Florida, but also to my parents and to a youth that is rapidly becoming increasingly distant.”

As a photo book, Haddon Room is beautifully produced and its design is elegantly executed. The pages are housed between two cardboard endpapers, with an exposed spine painted green with the title of the book placed vertically. The cover does not reveal much of the contents of the photobook: an illustration of a ladder going into the water appears in the upper left corner, while the title and the name of the artist appear in the center. The book has a consistent and simple layout, with all images displayed full bleed, with one or two per page. There are no captions, page numbers or any other design elements, plunging us into an uninterrupted visual flow.

The final pages feature star-shaped yellow figures on a white background, while the first plates depict the shimmering blue water of a swimming pool, and together they create a cheerful and happy mood for the visual narrative to come. The story begins with a small photograph showing a large group of people posing by the hotel pool, and a postcard of the hotel’s facade, stamped in 1943, is also included in the book. “Where to live is a pleasure” reads the quote on the next page in the lower right corner.

Harris’ bright, saturated colors, unexpected framing, and striking close-ups make his photographs stand out. A large format photograph of a woman wearing a white bathing cap opens the visual flow; she floats with her eyes closed in the pool, the blue of her bathing suit matching the water. Next is the image of another woman in a bikini as she leans forward, forcing us to notice her aging body as well as her manicured nails and neatly styled hair. And in the next photo, three women chat while one of them gently dries her friend’s hair. These are the kinds of everyday moments that make up the lives of Haddon Hall residents.

The visual narrative in this photobook unfolds in an intimate and tender way. A full-bleed image captures a woman brushing her teeth, her face taking up most of the frame as she stares straight into the camera. In another close-up, a woman has a wary look as she lifts red dumbbells. Harris always keeps us in a tight space with his photographs, bringing us close enough to the residents. She boldly highlights their aging bodies, with their dry skin and deep wrinkles.

As we go through the book there are images of people dancing, playing bingo, spending time by the pool or the ocean, eating their meals and enjoying their lives with a smile easy. A photograph captures an elegantly dressed couple in a dance move, and a few pages later a portrait of a woman takes up most of the frame, her lipstick matching her purple outfit; the top of her head is cut off, drawing our gaze to the cigarette she is holding and her ridiculously long fingernails. This senior community seems to be having a great time.

At the end of the book, Harris also shares additional personal details about some of the people she met at Haddon Hall. Sam – in the photo he is shown eating cornflakes for breakfast – had lost his first wife and child at Auschwitz; he usually kept to himself. Marie and Mary travel south together each winter from Canada; they were really fashionable and attended all the dance events. Their stories, and those of many others, live on through this project.

Shot with respect, care and a subtle sense of humour, the range of images from Haddon Room tells an intimately engaging story. In many ways, Harris’s photographs document the final days of this era. Haddon Hall subsequently changed hands several times and was recently transformed into a chic hotel welcoming gay visitors. As a photo book, Haddon Room is beautifully produced, thoughtful and elegant. It captures the realities of aging, while seeking out its comforting moments of joy and happiness.

Collector’s point of view: Naomi Harris doesn’t seem to have a consistent gallery representation at the moment. Therefore, collectors interested in following should probably connect directly with the artist via their website (linked in the sidebar).

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