Home Instruction Manual evolved from Jan McCullough’s longstanding interest in manuals – in particular, the pictures used. ‘Nowadays, of course, we all source our information online,’ says the photographer. ‘I came across an internet forum where people were sharing details of their homes, so I rented a house just outside Belfast for two months and followed their instructions.’

McCullough furnished the house using the advice of these self-styled experts. Her work has echoes of Tham & Videgård Arkitekter’s recent House of Clicks, ‘Sweden’s statistically most sought after home’, which was designed using data from property site Hemnet.

We spoke to McCullough to find out more about her project…

What kind of advice did you follow, and what was involved in the process of constructing the home?
Jan McCullough: Many of the instructions were incredibly detailed and specific. For example, a kitchen noticeboard had to be a mix between showing you were organised and that you had a bit of mess in your life. It took most of the two months to gather all the items, which I sourced through a house clearance company, but in the last couple of weeks the house started to feel like someone’s home, or rather, a mix of people’s homes. It wasn’t welcoming or homely, however, even though I followed people’s suggestions exactly.

What did you want to convey through the work?
Some of the forum conversations were funny, but others were quite sad, so I didn’t want to create a parody or poke fun at how people chose to live their lives. For me it was more about identity. I find the concept of identity within our internet age really interesting.

We all edit what we put online, but what happens when you strip all of that away and create something from scratch based on a general consensus? I was interested to see what that would look like.

You play with the viewer’s expectations of what a perfect home should be. How did you explore this idea photographically?
I included my hand in a few images to remind the viewer that what they’re seeing is constructed. This also harked back to images in old instruction manuals where you can see someone demonstrating something. I combined full-room shots with close-ups of details, and used the camera’s pop-up flash, which you’ll often see in family album photography. I wanted the images to look as though anyone had taken them.

Home Instruction Manual will go on show at Belfast Exposed from 3 July to 22 August 2015.

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