Sivan Askayo’s Intimacy Under the Wires photography project showcases people’s most personal items displayed in the most public of venues. By capturing images of clothing hanging out to dry, Sivan gets a glimpse into the lives they lead and the cultural values they uphold. From Israel to Italy to Vietnam, she travels in search of colorful laundry displayed against bright facades, comparing and contrasting the scenes as she goes.
Here, Sivan explains how she started the project, what she has learned from it, and how she hopes to see it grow in the future.
How did your “Intimacy Under the Wires” project come about?
The project started with a random image that I took on a visit to my home country of Israel in 2010.
I had made plans to meet a friend at the flea market in Jaffa and he was late. As I waited, I wandered through the quiet back streets of the old neighborhood. It’s quite an amazing place: Jews, Christians and Arabs live together in buildings with colorful facades. Walking around, you really get a feel for both the history and modernity of the area.
A woman’s voice from the upper floor of an apartment building caught my attention. I looked up and saw her hanging her laundry outside by the balcony; it was a scene I hadn’t seen for almost 12 years, ever since I had moved from Israel to Manhattan. I stayed there, standing in the street under the balcony, and observed her as she continued to add pieces of clothing to the line. A warm breeze from the sea came by and animated the items. In that moment, I felt a need to capture the scene in a picture.
Upon my return to New York that same summer, I had a stopover in London. Eyjafjallajökull had just erupted and I got stuck in the city for a week. I used the time to walk around the streets and neighborhoods, taking lots of pictures. I spotted similar laundry scenes and decided to document them, too.
The more I took pictures of laundry, the more I wondered about the people who wore the clothes. What did they do for a living? What did they look like? Mostly, I wanted to know about their characters. I felt like I was getting to know them superficially just from looking at what they had hung out to dry – work shirts, party dresses, uniforms, children’s clothes, lingerie – but I wanted to know more. Thus this project, named by my publisher Phaidon as “Intimacy Under the Wires,” was born.
What have you learned from the scenes that you have photographed? What are you most struck by?
I’m most struck by how the laundry fits with the physical characteristics of the location in the frame, be it a street sign or building or window. I love the comparison of textures, patterns and colors.
I’ve also learned – and I continue to learn – about the differences that exist between cultures and ways of living. In Spain, I often see football shirts hanging out to dry, a nod to the country’s energy around and obsession with the sport. In Mediterranean countries such as Israel or Italy, it’s typical to hang sheets outside in addition to clothing. And throughout Europe, really, clotheslines are much more populated on weekends as people are home form work and have the time to wash; I suppose that’s not true in Paris, though, as a law prohibits hanging laundry outdoors.
Finally, I have also learned that it is human nature to be voyeuristic. When I shoot these images, I often stand under the laundry wires, waiting for the right moment – for a breeze to pass by; for life and energy and rhythm to be blown into the clothes. I stand looking up at the clothing like a spy, deciphering lives and relationships. I suppose this is what photographers do: try to understand people and situations and tell stories with their images. And this is what others do too, as they people-watch or flip through pictures in magazines and photo albums. We all wait and watch and observe and interpret; we’re curious about other people and their lives. We’re natural voyeurs.
Does the project dictate where and when you travel, or you do travel and then seek out images that fit the project?
I suppose it’s a bit of both. People who follow this project often invite me to visit their hometowns. They recommend neighborhoods and communities to visit for spectacular laundry scenes and I usually take them up on their offers. I was invited to Lisbon, for example, by local bloggers who encouraged me to visit Alfama. When I was in Rome for a shoot, I took a one day trip to Naples and hired a local guide who took me to different neighborhoods where I could shoot for the project. I also once came across an image of laundry in Menton, in the south of France, on one of the blogs I follow. I knew after seeing that picture that I wanted to travel there to add to my collection.
Were you a traveler before this project was developed?
I have always been drawn to travel. One of my grandfathers bought me an ATLAS book for my 8th birthday; another gave me a one-year subscription to National Geographic. Both of these gifts really inspired me as a little girl. My parents traveled frequently as well – often to South Africa to visit family – and I loved going with them. I always joke that they used to read me travel magazines or books instead of more traditional bedtime stories. They made me curious about the world and really encouraged me to explore.
Where do you see this project going in the future? What impact do you hope it will have?
I hope to continue to add to this project with images from other locations. I’m particularly curious about Cuba, Brazil and Shanghai. Long term, I would love to see these images as part of a campaign, perhaps for a washing detergent or to help bring awareness to a global cause. After all, no matter who we are or where we find ourselves in the world, we all wash and dry our clothes.
I also hope that this project will encourage people to look up more often and to change their perspective and their ways of looking at things. I want to show people that they can find beauty in simple, mundane things – like laundry.