Last November, my mother passed away from the late stages of breast cancer. She did not pass peacefully, and in passing, she left me and my family in deep sadness for the natural disaster which caused so much pain within and without her body.
I began writing this article with the intent to convey just how much of a shit show the last five years have been. I started writing, and it all came out; all the memories that still haven't found their resting place.
I realised that even I didn't want to read it. The idea of trying to present memories so awful in a way that was accessible to the general reader somehow disturbed me; I wanted to scratch-scream-scrawl them across the world's collective consciousness so no one would ever forget to check their tits- and go to the bloody doctor if you find a lump.
So instead of creating a reproduction of hell, I have chosen to show the images which now hold so much weight for me and my family, the images my mother took capturing her love for all of us.
My mother, Jolie Glover, was a photographer who focused a lot of time on documenting the East Sussex coastline, from Brighton to Eastbourne, and her family, who settled there in 1999.
My grandad first passed his love of cameras and developing film to my mum, and she passed it to me and my sister. Between us, we have succeeded in capturing our family members in every stage of life, from great grandparents to tiny furious babies wriggling in their cribs. Every face and hand has been treasured by our lenses- from old SLR cameras to the latest iPhone - the only difference really is the filter, and time does that anyway.
The photo evidence of warmth and tender family connections fill multiple books and decorate our homes. It's a pleasure to fill our WhatsApp family chat with their timeless energy.
Jolie began taking photos at college and fell in love with documenting her family and friends and her home town of Egham; shopkeepers, bands, and athletes were all her models. She really enjoyed meeting new people and taking photos to bring home.
Exploring was something my mum loved to do, sometimes by herself, but more often than not, with me or my sister in tow. She wanted to take us everywhere she went, whether that was on a day out walking along the seven sisters or to Egypt, France, Italy, or further afield. It was always an adventure wherever we went. We fought, we sang, we played games, we watched endless rom-coms, and we ate so much cake! The photo evidence doesn't do justice to the amount of cake we had.
My first interaction with photography was in my mum's home studio - a bedroom with white walls and pine floors, and natural light- my sister and I were her favourite models as she started her small business. We grew up in front of her camera, laughing, exploring, and fighting. I remember being fascinated with how the cameras worked, how they looked, and the sounds they made.
Family photography seems a fitting name for what my mother loved to do, but the attitude and lack of representation of the genre are unbecoming of The Arts. The fine art circle, which is supposedly intent on diversity, inclusion, and representative representation, has not been especially welcoming to those who had to incorporate their art within their busy lives as parents.
The genre of family photography is more often than not looked at as either service you provide or a hobby you enjoy, or simply the duty of a parent to provide records of childhood. This layer of domesticity and service creates a barrier between family photography from critical acclaim. The potential for advancement or celebration outside of what an individual can manifest within their home and community is limited.
I am not here to take away from this level of celebration and advancement but rather to question why more advancement and celebration are not common or expected for family photographers. Just because family photographers' time and resources are limited, it does not mean that their artistic abilities are. And what better resources are there than family adventures and intimate moments of connection?
Speaking of community celebration, I remember the first ever photographic exhibition I went to; it was my mum's in our house, and people came from all around east Sussex to look at photos of our family and the South Downs and Sussex coastline where we lived. This was something that happened a lot in Sussex; open houses were a part of our culture.
Some people would show off their gardens, others artwork or crafts. Some open houses were in the middle of the countryside; others were behind pubs and up steep alleyways. It was a brilliant way for artists to hold exhibitions without having to rent studios, and people would buy your work, trade stories and techniques. Every open house had the same warm feeling of pride and careful consideration- home-spun magic impressed without any need for big flashing lights.
Family photography has the power to connect, comfort, and inspire. Its become synonymous with communication and expression within family life and culture. This was poignantly visible during the final weeks of my mother's life.
As my mother's illness took its savage hold, we all found ourselves seeking the comfort of old photo albums to feel close to her. As Covid restrictions made visiting difficult and impossible for groups, we brought photos of family members with us to the hospital. I remember about ten photos of my mum's nieces, nephews, and grandchildren around her bed. These small comforts were small yet vital in times of great distress and pain.
We visited the hospital one at a time with flowers, photos, and food. Each time it got a little more difficult, and each time, it took a little more strength to walk through the front door.
Before my mum went into the hospital, she was determined to enjoy life until the end; but our final adventure had yet to start. Our last adventure was a trip to find the northern lights in Sweden through the delightfully humourous and wry words of Bill Bryson's travel novel Neither Here Nor There.
Every time my family members and I visited, we would read a bit of this book to my mum; there was nothing else we could do in terms of offering comfort or conversation because she became increasingly paralysed every day. She could still hear our words and speak a little and enjoyed our final trip to find the northern lights.
Breast cancer awareness month is very important to my family and me because cancer continues to affect us all. It's also an important time because it reminds me of the tremendous strength and endurance of everyone in my life and the world suffering from the disease shown in the face of such a cataclysmic natural disaster.
"You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy."