“Not fit to turn a fish out in”

22.22pm ( sitting on the sofa)

I have been trying to find a bit of peace to write this today. It is now sleep time. Everyone is sleeping. Naoise wanted me to put his arm around his body and not to go away for too long. Stay Mummy Stay, Arm around, Arm Around. I reassured him that I would not be gone for long.

I read the Moomins to him, Finn Family Moomintroll, its a win, win reading scenario we both love Tove’s words and stories.

P is at home. I spent the day licking the stairs and the kitchen clean. I didnt lick the toilet but it is clean, and the front room rug that was resembling a dust rag. I cleaned it all with love. I figured it was important that a convalesing family member should have a clean house. I actually enjoyed the process. Its simple, effective and the outcome pleasing. I like order, I don’t really like mess, I just except a degree of caos so that I can make time to create.

Something has to give, and a slightly dirty house and no ironed clothes is for me the solution for happiness.


I dropped the car off at the garage. It was sounding like an angry lion. I failed to get on the first bus back home as I didnt have the correct change. It was wet, wet, wet, raining and raining and raining. Two minutes outside and I was soaked. I looked in oxfam, in the hippy clothes shops and the book shop. I bought food for the evening meal. Forty minutes past quickly. I managed the next bus that took me all the way home.

I made coffee. Then I made dinner. Then I listened to a friend. Then I prepared for an interview. Then I went to The University of Leeds to listen to a talk by Siona Wilson, entitled Jo Spence: Against the Trending. 

I left all the boys to look after each other. Syd was an absolute star. He cooked tea, then he did the washing up, then he sat on the sofa till I came in.

It was so great to be on the train heading for the city. I had to run up the road to the university, I missed the first half of the talk and tripped over a lead on my way into the lecture theatre. The talk was great, got my brain thinking about documentary photography, specifically family photography.Its just such a joy to escape the house and the care work and enter a calm, knowledge space of uninterrupted cerebral activity.

I thought about how the children are authors of images. Syds selfies on Facebook. Naoise images found made on this phone, when my back was turned.  I thought about how I could break down the power relations between me and Naoise. Especially in light of an incident that occurred yesterday.

I was sat on the sofa, giving Naoise a cuddle, staring into space. I looked at our hands entwined and his relaxed face, him holding onto his snuffly comforter and I wanted to document this tender moment. So I took this picture, its pretty dull and does not really capture the warmth of our embrace, the touch of our skin, the weight of his body resting on mine.

It lacks. It lacks love. It lacks authority.


Naoise certainly was not impressed that I had my camera out.  He became irritated with me. I realise now that he didn’t want me to take his picture. Photography is a TAKING. A stealing. Who is subject and who is photographer? To whom does the image belong?  The watcher or the subject? The mother or the child?

Naoise demonstrated his contempt of my actions by getting his snuffly pillow comforter and hitting it at my smart phone camera and in turn my face.

He was annoyed. He was angry.

Annoyance soon became a game. He wanted me to capture him hitting the camera with his empty pillow case. The comforter had become a weapon. A weapon against my recording him. He asked me to take pictures of what he was doing. A video, a video Mummy. Make a video of what I am doing. 

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I did make a video. I did make photographs. I was interested in the results. I liked that they obscured both mine and his identity. I liked that they weren’t perfectly in focus. I liked that they captured the movement of the cloth against my body. I liked the randomness of the results. I liked the lack of control over the outcome. I liked him instructing and directing me.

But should I have been asking him to stop hurting me? Should I have challenged him? Was I being neglectful? Its understandable that he was upset. I was taking without his consent.

I found this process revealing, but Naoise behaviour in response to my actions was  perturbing. He was obviously distressed. At one stage he sat on top of the smart phone. He hit the smart phone with his hands. He did not want me or him to play with it. He even looked as if he intended to break it, and when he was hitting the object, it felt as if he was hitting me too. Breaking me apart. Us apart. Occasionally the tip of the pillow case whipped my face. It was not a pleasant encounter.

I talked to him about this situation at bed time, I asked if he had been upset. He explained that he was. He does not like me taking pictures of him, even if it is for this artwork. I suggested that he take some pictures of me instead; Maybe Mummy. I want to hand over some control of this space to him. I don’t want him to be a passive collaborator. An annoyed collaborated. This project is meant to be an honest space. A creative space. A critical space.

Have I lost sight of what matters? You cannot really live when a camera is in front of your face all the time. When you are constantly thinking with the image. Where does the image stop and where does life start? What is the point of all this documenting, all this recording? Who is it for? Who is my audience?

Am I blind to what I am making? Am I stumbling?

How is the family album made now? Who is the author? Are we all photographers now? What is the difference between the slow process of Jo Spence and the fast process of the smart phone. Smart or Slow. Which is it? Is slow not more smart?

All these images. All these images that I take each day. All these images exhaust me. Are they any good? What is good? Didn’t you want to break down those ideas of the good mother? Challenge idealised images? Have you fallen into portraying the good, the sentimental? Have you produced anything new? Have you really been honest? Can you be honest with words and images?

How to edit?  Select.

You need to look closer. Think. Think about the tarmac and the skin. Think about autobiography and the relationship between text and image. Memory and Psyche.

Think about Roland Barthes and Camera Lucida, about the image of his mother. Think how photographs lie. Think about what they don’t say. Think what is missing? What is said and what is not said? Think about the medium, all the thousands of pixels floating around in this non-space. Not ever getting to paper, or object or metal, or gallery.

How do these images exist? Do they need always to be accompanied by text, or can they be free of this ramble of reflective thought?

Have I made the work of mother visible? Or am I lost between too many images and words, information overload? So many images stored as data but never existing physically. Not enough time to process those images, to sort, to shape, to print.

Think about the author. I am not the father with the camera recording our time together, I am not the mother organising the family album. I am both author and organiser. I am artist and mother.

How do the children become better collaborators? How do I break down the power structures? I let them play. I need to let them play more with this space. How do they see me? How do I break down what I have been doing? How do I let it run free?

How can it have a life of its own?

Have I been wrong to take so many pictures of my children, to publish them here? How much say do they have in this process? How do I pass these ideas on to them? When does the art work move from mine to ours?

Syd was brilliant this evening, he helped by collecting Naoise from school, by cooking dinner and doing the washing up. He has started to inform this project. He has changed the story. I no longer have to feel that the house and care work is all my work, this home is our home, this project is our project. We are all the authors of this story. Its not just mothers story its the others story too.

We can all care. We can all maintain. We can all hold our own and others emotions. We can all cook and clean and sort and order. We can all wipe away tears and provide comfort. We can all contain our own emotions and put others before ourselves. We can all clean the loo. We can all decide to be radical and  active. We don’t have to be passive. We can all use a camera.

Are we the subject or is the photograph the subject? The camera does not care. The camera just takes, and takes and takes. Does the image speak or simply exist to create the start of a conversation? Or does it change the conversation?

Even the woman who got on the bus is a part of this story. Its always good to talk about the weather especially on a day like today. A day when the clouds just open and open and open, and rain pours down. A deluge. Rain that removes all the leaves that were just clinging on. Rain that shows the skeletons of the trees. Rain that sets off the scream of the flood sirens.


The woman with a tight french knot fixed with plenty of grips, who got on the bus who is a part of this story.  She said that this weather is not fit enough to turn a fish out in. She was right. We were all sodden, the floor of the bus was sodden with tickets and tissues and tat, the bottom of my jeans were sodden. The rain came and came and came, and rivers ran down the panes of glass in the windows of the bus as we waited to move off from the station.


Jo Spence 

The Temporal Modes of Maintenance Work, Lisa Barrister, 1/2/2013

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