My mother in the garden awash with greenery – The best photo of Lydia Goldblatt | Art and design
I started shooting at home with my parents almost 15 years ago. My elderly father was going through a slow decline and I wanted to spend time with him. I don’t know if I was fully aware of it at the time, but I was using my camera to do what photography does: to allow you to cling to something that is about to disappear.
I was in my twenties, had no children yet, and lived near their house, where I had grown up. When I wasn’t working, I went back and forth, sometimes staying a day or two. The images, which would later make up the book Still Here, were born privately, over a long period of time.
In my father’s photographs, he is almost like a child again in the way he must have been cared for. He is there and already absent. But my mother was 24 years younger than him and at the time I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t there. Looking at the images now, I see the tension between the images, the different stages they were in. My mother is vulnerable but strong, active and in control, albeit with a fragility that portends what was to come.
She was happy that the photos of her were quite intimate – there’s one in the bath, another of her screwing a light bulb with curlers in her hair, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen previously. My parents were both very supportive of the process, although only my mother was able to see the images in book form and in exhibits.
What is immediately striking in this shot is that it is so verdant. The saturation of green becomes a kind of claustrophobic space, containing and constraining: there is nowhere outside of it. But my mother is turned outward – from the camera, from the house, from me. She seems to survey her domain and go beyond, gazing at what might exist beyond the garden wall. It becomes symbolic of where she was, emotionally and psychologically, in her role as the younger partner caring for the older one, knowing that she will soon be on her own.
She cuts a really interesting figure. She’s dressed quite smartly, her hair neatly in place, and wears clothes she might go to work in, though she also wears slippers. She has a firm posture, hands on hips, feet firmly anchored to the ground, and looks towards the corner of the garden where the two walls meet, invisible to us. But also in this corner is the clothesline, which I see as an umbilical cord that runs from the house to the edge of the domestic sphere, pulling it back.
Of course, I read all of this in the picture when, as far as I remember, she was just looking at what to do in the garden. But this photo reminds me of a photo I took during the confinement of my daughter Eden inside a plastic seedling tent in our garden. There is a 10-year gap between the two images, but they both provoke ideas of love, protection and isolation – one made during a pandemic, the other made at another time leading to death. Themes of mothering, being mothered, love, loss and time run through my work. This image of Eden is featured in my Fugue series, which also includes a photograph of my mother’s ashes scattered in our own garden.
Lydia Goldblatt Resume
Born: London, 1978.
Qualified: MA in Photography, London College of Communication.
influence: “Rebecca Solnit, Rachel Cusk, Claire Wilcox, Eva Hoffman and Nigel Shafran, Rinko Kawauchi, Robert Adams, Sian Bonnell, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston.”
Strong points: “Having the freedom to work, explore, think and experiment.”
low points: “Self-doubt, which comes in many forms as a freelancer, creator, wife, mother.”
Trick: “Answer to self-doubt. Show the work to people you trust.