Unnatural Mother

Conversations with my mother - 2016 NZ Photobook of the Year Awards - finalist

Photobook details: Perfect bound hardcover. 210 x 210mm. Edition of 10. 54 pages.

"She couldn't cook, she couldn't sew. Then she got a job. Then she left the children behind. What an unnatural mother". Neighbour and one-time friend.

The mother in question is my mother and she was judged by her peers for committing the ultimate crime of motherhood. That of leaving her husband and children in 1978 to pursue her own life and search for happiness. This did not fit in with the social constructs of that time of how a mother was expected to behave and certainly not with how she was brought up.

The work is a narrative utilising both photobook and exhibition form and is based on the last photo of the family together.  With analogue photographs from  a selection of my family albums, archival material, text and new images, it explores themes of societal norms and how photography and the family album perpetuates familial myths whilst seeming to be just recording a moment in time.  

Images of family events such as birthdays, weddings, childhood milestones and holidays are symbols of social integration. They expose our desire to show to the world how happy and prosperous we are. The recognition of the symbols and signifiers of the events subtly overwrite the personal aspects of the celebrations and allude to tribe, ritual and conformity.

Included in the exhibition was: Cherie, Shelley: like mother, like daughter [photographic print], Conversations with my mother (photobook 210 x 210 mm), A new conversation [audio], Kitchen talk [formica kitchen table (circa. 1970's), kitchen chairs (circa. 1950's)]

Judges comments: 'This book is a poetic visualisation of memory. While humble in production, it evokes a great emotional response. It's a book mystery, and a journey to understand a mother's control. Nice to see a purposeful mix of photographic and archival content. The material quality and content together reflect a clear guiding concept of artifactuality.'