“Single mothers are fallen women and grave sinners, whose children are the product of wickedness”
– Father Cecil Beaton, Head of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau, 1952
The severe and judgmental attitudes towards women who became pregnant outside of marriage permeated the ethos of virtually all Church and State agencies in 20th century Ireland. Church and State were bound in their conceptualisation of unmarried motherhood as degenerate and sinful. The tragic outcome of this is that generations of mothers and babies were forced apart.
As an unmarried mother at the age of 21 in the Ireland of 2002, I had the choice to keep my daughter. But in 1975, for my mother, then aged 20, there was no choice and she was forced to give her son up for adoption shortly after his birth. A similar story can be told of two more of my aunts, one as recently as 1985. Stirred by the secrecy and concealment of these events within my family, and inspired by an emerging familial and societal consciousness of the experiences of unmarried mothers and their children, this project seeks to recognise, respect, listen to and hear from those women our society so entirely failed.
The control of sexuality by the Catholic Church and the State in 20th Century Ireland was a powerful barrier to a woman’s ability to make choices about her body and about her newborn child. Soon after the establishment of an Irish free state in 1922, “Mother and Baby Homes” began appearing to house and hide unwed pregnant women and facilitate the adoption of their children into ‘proper’, catholic marital homes. In the adoption process, birth mothers were silenced, restricted from information and generally excluded from participation to the greatest extent possible. Illegitimate pregnancies, births and resultant adoptions were most often treated as shameful family secrets.
Today with cultural change and the weakening grasp of the Catholic Church on the Irish State and society, these women are beginning to speak out. My ambition for the project is to highlight the position and experiences of birth mothers within this emerging social dialogue. The primary engagement with the women is through recorded interviews, supplemented with portrait photographs of the birth mother and documentation of any photos/materials they bring with them. I have visited as many of the mother and baby homes as possible. Some still stand, some images are simply the space where they stood. In TheArchaeology of Knowledge, Foucault discussed the act of archiving as the practice of learning about the past through its material remains. I have found records, letters, hand written notes and relevant historical newspaper clippings which also play a part in this project. In essence this project is an archive of imagery and historical references.
As the Irish State announced its term for a commission to investigate the conduct and operation of these homes, this project facilitates birth mothers in reclaiming their memories and dealing with past events by means of modern photographic documentation and archival practices.
Picture You | Picture Me
Picture You, Picture Me is a collaborative and explorative portrait project with my daughter Laoisha. Born in Galway Ireland in 2002, Laoisha has Downs Syndrome. As a consistent subject in my work, this series has naturally evolved from her curiosity and urge to stand on the other side of the camera, taking more control over me as the subject, and of the images taken. By directing each other through role-play and instruction, we decide how the other stands, which direction to face and even facial expressions, creating a playful environment where the camera becomes more than an artistic tool, but an instrument of amusement. The images are almost secondary to the experience, a fortunate by-product of the session shared.
By ceding a certain amount of authorial control, the resulting work creates an environment in which to explore the themes of collaborative creativity, child autonomy, trust and the relationship between subject and photographer. Is technical ability a prerequisite for creative control? Does the photographers participation as a subject influence the narrative? Can a reciprocal experience empower one to become a more trusting and genuine subject? These are just a few of the possible considerations this series instigates.} maybe leave this out?
Picture You, Picture Me began as a curious journey for me and my daughter, and over the past decade has become a very personal documentation of our growth as individuals and as a family. The project and image content will evolve naturally in relation to Laoishas ability to control the camera and the development of her visual language and will continue on until she either loses the desire to be the subject, or no longer wants me in the picture. Exploring topics such as child autonomy and the relationship between subject and photographer it allows the viewer a personal view into this mother/ daughter relationship.
“To bring out the best in parents, we must leave them full responsibility with regard to what is their own affair; the upbringing of their own family” D.H. Winnicott
Two Homes is a body of work that gives candid insight into an alternative domestic partnership, challenging the notion of a traditional nuclear family as the only viable option in today’s society. The family is perpetually evolving, an entity in which relationships grow and shrink, develop and dissolve, strengthen and dissipate. By using comparative diptychs of seemingly mundane subjects, the viewer is encouraged to consider the ‘family’ in the context of my child’s two homes. Subjects relating to my daughter’s daily routines are observed, documented, and collected in the context of my home. Using these images as reference, I then reproduce them in her father’s to create a more comprehensive visual map of our family. By similarly documenting the fulfilment of her basic needs; play, eat, sleep, we begin to see differences that illustrate the separation between her two homes. Although the images are similar in structure and style, subtle gender associations become apparent in the way tasks are undertaken. The ritual of bathing for example: a task which can easily be considered a chore presents itself with an equal opportunity for play, all depending on the approach. It’s within these varied approaches and associations the character of the two homes is revealed, resulting in an often humorous illustration of everyday life.
Exhibited on a corner of the gallery, the images mirror each other: one household facing another. Each wall can however be looked at individually, illustrating the fact that however similar the activities and subjects in each house, they are still separate homes. This is a subject matter close to many children's hearts. Aproximatley 24% of children in the UK, come from either a single parent home or separated domestic home. Children's reaction to the work is always positive and inquisitive. For children who have similar home situations this work this work is encouraging in its positive and humorous view on how these alternative domestic set ups can work, and are common in our society