In July I carried out an informal art experiment to let go of my son’s shoes from the age of 2-8. The shoe collection had been held on to, photographed and used in drawings as an ongoing project throughout that time.
The event was interactive and participatory. The audience included children, some took part by trying on and taking home shoes which fitted them. Some – including the previous owner of the shoes – played with the shoes, interacted with and rebuilt the temporary sculpture to their liking.
The audience also helped to document the event. Thanks go to Despina Mavrou, Liam Cookson and Matthew Cookson for taking additional photographs.
After the event all the remaining shoes were donated to TRAID.
In this post I want to share some of the work which I developed to document the shoes throughout the project and discuss the reasons for doing this, plus some images documenting the event in July and final reflections on the project.
When I initially began taking photographs of my son’s shoes I was very interested in the culture of memorialising stages of children’s development and also in the rapid growth of young children that could be noticed by looking at their shoes as they were used and discarded over time.
When we took our son for his first proper walking shoe fitting we were given a “First Shoes” instant Polaroid photograph of the moment. Throughout infancy family and friends of all babies and young children are often amazed by the ordinary rapid change and growth of a child. So it is no surprise that we all do our best to record and remember each change and to freeze important moments; first smile, first steps, first Christmas and so on.
A whole industry and culture has developed around this; mugs with your child’s hand and foot prints, special albums and journals where locks of hair, notes and images can be collected. In the digital age it is also easy to “share” such memories online or produce custom printed books and calendars. Photography is an important aspect of the culture of preserving memories, as are physical reminders such as hair and the imprints of tiny feet and hands.
The rapid pace of change seemed to me to be embodied in the frequent need for new shoes as my son grew and developed quickly. Each pair was quickly worn out or grown out of. Some were hardly used while other favourites were battered and worn out before being set aside. Some have particular associations with passing seasons, events and memories.
So after my son’s “First Shoes” fitting I began to keep and photograph his shoes.
From this point I experimented with different ways to photograph the shoes, also using drawing to make outlines of the shoes and incorporating written notes about the shoes and their associations.
By summer 2016 I concluded that this project which had been partly conceived out of a need to “let go”, needed to be let go off.
During an informal and participatory performance I laid out the shoes in the order of their size and order in which they were worn to create a line of footprints across the grass of the park. While doing this I drew a final outline pattern on a canvas to complete the series of drawings I have made like this.
My son helped to document the performance and then decided to walk the line of shoes.
After that my son rearranged the shoes into a pattern, then we invited his friends to try on and take any shoes they liked.
After the performance the shoes were donated to TRAID through one of their street collection banks. TRAID work to reduce the environmental and social impact of clothes waste and improve working conditions in the textile industry.
Now I need to decide whether to continue the project with my son’s latest pair of outgrown shoes!
© Text and images Angela Stapleford
© Additional images where specified: Despina Mavrou, Liam Cookson and Matthew Cookson.