Rick Poynor

Exploring David King’s House: Photographs By Kaiya Waerea

These photographs of David King’s house were taken by Kaiya Waerea in July 2016, a few weeks after he died. Waerea is the granddaughter of Judy Groves, King’s friend, collaborator and co-owner of his estate. 

The organisation of King’s multifaceted legacy was then beginning to happen. His remarkable home on St Paul’s Road in Islington, London, a rambling, idiosyncratic museum of his possessions, was crammed with the immensely resonant objects and images he left behind. “There was an intense layering of interests happening in his house,” recalls Waerea, “with people from the Tate, past friends and collaborators, and our family all trying to process what had happened and do best by his work and collections. Everything was going to change very quickly and there wasn’t much time to document the space that was the collision of all the facets of his life.”

The library-like hall seen from inside the front door

Waerea was at the time a design student at Central Saint Martins; she is now studying writing at the Royal College of Art. She visited the house in the company of a friend, Liam Winter, and the plan was to shoot some moving images. Winter had to depart for work and left Waerea with his camera, a Panasonic Lumix GH4, with a 12-35mm f/2.8 Lumix G X Vario zoom lens. “I didn’t really know what I was doing with it,” admits Waerea. “It’s not my medium. But this was the first – and only – time I was able to take my time looking around David’s house, the camera giving me the excuse to really look in a way that can otherwise seem intrusive.”

The 130 or so pictures are notable for the intimacy of their gaze. Waerea investigates most of the house, peering reverently at everything she encounters. The occasional distortions and blurring add to the impression of descending into the everyday grain of King’s world. Everything is as he left it. The pictures have a sense of deep texture and the vibrancy of the man is still a palpable presence in these rooms. “My visits to David’s house as an adult were always led by his urgency to show me something – a newspaper cutting, an image he’d found – that he thought I might find useful for my own practice,” says Waerea. “Our conversations were almost always turned towards me. Taking these photos, I was able to turn back to him and the material conditions that he had built for himself.” In the coming months, this sanctuary, the expression of a remarkable eye and intellect, would be slowly dismantled by family and friends. 

Two antique French enamel signs for Lumichrome Lumière film
Stripped-wood kitchen and an abstract painting by King
Extension of King’s office with a view of the garden
Office desk
Bust of Mao Zedong
Banner made to King’s design by the quilter Deirdre Amsden, showing luminaries such as the writer Boris Pasternak (not visible in photo) and composer Dmitri Shostakovich (on the right)
Objects from King’s collection filled every available cranny
Sets of Russian books
Copies of Krokodil, a satirical magazine founded in the Soviet Union in 1922
EKCO Bakelite “Trees” radio, model SH25, 1930s
View from the half-landing
Lightbox and work table in the top-floor studio
Filing cabinets in the studio for King’s collection of Russian photographs
Drawers of historical photos
Soviet magazines
Soviet publications
Documents and photographs
Soviet badges and a strip of pictures of Vladimir Lenin