Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage. ~Catherine Douzel
At the back of a closet, in a small worn brown leather suitcase, I discovered pre-WWII photographs belonging to a relative. Represented in many of the photos were extended family members Grannie Rose, cousins Cis and Jinks, Uncle David and Aunt Edie enjoying afternoon tea in a Scottish garden. The pleasure of tea was evident.
Alongside I found dozens of tiny black and white photos of young British children in India.
The owner of the suitcase, was a Raj Orphan. "Raj Orphans", children of the British in India, were deposited in Britain at an early age to be educated while their parents stayed on in India. The British served in the military or worked in business helping to build the Empire.
In this instance, Jack managed a tea estate in Assam while his children were educated in Scotland. Every few years he and his wife Phyllis returned to visit their offspring in Scotland while on "leave" from the tea garden. The children occasionally spent time with extended family but essentially grew up with local abandoned children in a foster home. I was struck by the paradox of tea as both a cause for abandonment and a universal provider of great comfort.
Inspired by this find, I began my tea / leaves series.
A tea leaf reading session, companionship over cups of tea in the garden, a solitary tea drinker - these images are displayed alongside portraits of the orphans of Oak Hall. I document the paraphernalia of tea: An early twentieth century silver tea service, hand painted cups and bone china. Painting from observation allows me to meditate on the beauty of these instruments and to consider the important role tea plays historically and socially.
With tea as a starting point, I tell a story of fragility, hope and ultimately, what it is to be human.