Portrait of a House, with Raissa Holasz

Portrait of a House, with Raissa Holasz

Bio: Raissa Holasz nee Geist born Wosnessensk near Odessa 1929 under Soviet Union Rule. Repatriated to Germany under Hitler`s programme of uniting all Germans to the Fatherland. Worked repairing aircraft as a teenager and married a Ukrainian partisan, Dmitri, and moved to Peterborough, England in the early 1950`s. Mother and Grandmother, a keen gardener and excellent  traditional Ukrainian embroiderer until failing eyesight set in. Speaks Ukrainian, Russian, German and English.

In all my (four) years as a photographer I’ve always seen myself purely as a photographer of people.  Place someone in front of my camera and I know exactly what to do.  Take them away again and I’m lost.  I’ve never known how to take a photo of an empty room and I’ve never known how to stand there and look at a photo of an empty room, how to interpret it.  But Raissa’s house was so characterful, so resonant and so outside anything I’ve ever really experienced before, I almost intuitively knew what to do.  But then at the same time, even though I’ve titled this a Portrait of a House it’s really a portrait of Raissa through her house.  So still people photography.  In a way.  I can only really begin to imagine and to extrapolate what the eccentricity of this house really means.  As a writer of fiction I could start to unpack this space, create worlds and lives and imagine the psychic disruptions that bounce and ripple and echo through this small suburban home.  This is the home of a hoarder.  The home of someone who had nothing and now can’t bear to let anything go.  I counted ten suitcases within easy reach — ready, if you needed to, to flee at any moment.  The reverberations of living under Nazi rule carry on over 70 years later.  Raissa sees people in her house where there are no people.  She imagines being handed babies by phantoms — babies were desperately offered to non-Jewish families before the parents were interred in German concentration camps.  And there is a strange, enervating tug to this house.  It’s heavy and disquieting.  Later, I experienced the exact same exhausted feeling editing these photos.  It was draining.  I think they can only really hint at what the house is for Raissa, and what it means to live a life like that.  To be forcibly repatriated to Germany from the Ukraine, and then move to England and start again as a refuge from a war that was so big and insane that no one outside of it will ever really be able to understand it.  Raissa’s home feels to me like a physical processing of this life.  These photos are unlike anything else I’ve taken and I hope they do it some justice.  But the richness and complexity and power comes from the house itself.  Everything in it is freighted with meaning.  From the obsessive collection of porcelain figures, to the overwhelming bloom of flowered everything, right down to a short recriminatory note Raissa’s late husband, Dimitri, left to their son on a brick above the garage door, in 1977.

This then, is a photographic record of something (I hope) most of us will never quite understand…



  1. tholasz

    Sublime, both your words and photos. On a metaphorical note, I just heard the eggs have hatched and Ollie and Nanny have baby black birds living in the green house. X

  2. Adam Riley

    Wow, its good to see such a different type of post. Love the shot of the wallpaper with the spaces where photographs used to hang :)

  3. lisaaldersley

    Oh wow I LOVE THESE. They make me want to visit and talk to them. Amazing

  4. Rob Ward

    A great set of thought provoking images and narrative Nick. would be interesting to hear the story behind you taking these shots.

  5. Carole

    This is wonderful – so moving


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