The photographs in Matthew Finn’s new book Mother, published recently by Dewi Lewis, were made over the course of 30 years. In them, Finn depicts his mother, Jean, at home in Leeds, showing her in moments from everyday life that are somewhere between portraits and documentary photographs. She washes dishes in rubber gloves, looks out of lace curtains, or stands in the kitchen in a pool of light, smoking. Over time, his mother ages—her hairstyle changes, the sharp angles of her face soften and her posture stoops. Jean is the star of the book, at times polished and glamorous, but the house itself is also a character. We get to know the strong light in the kitchen, which hits the coffee maker on the tiled counter, and the floral-patterned wall paper in the sitting room, where an artificial Christmas tree is framed by the TV and fireplace.
In part, the photographs were a reaction to Finn’s missing father, who he describes as constantly disappointing Jean. “The more I knew about my father, the more I felt a need to protect my mum, to wrap her up in cotton wool, to be the supportive man in her life, someone who would not let her down, who would always be there for her. Photography and the act of being photographed—to be wanted, to be needed—formed a strong bond between us.” That bond eventually led to a collaborative role for his mother. “She became aware of the quality of light, of her best side, and of how close I should get,” he writes. “I was more than happy to be involved in this dance.” That collaboration, however, ended when Jean’s health failed, and eventually she moved into a home. “For my mother and I, this switch of roles was quick. Diagnosed with mixed dementia two years ago, she fell silent and our collaboration was over. I no longer exist to her and she cannot recognise herself.” But, he writes, “What remains are these pictures.”