My mother in the green garden – Lydia Goldblatt’s best photo | art and design

I started taking photos 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’m not sure I was aware of it at the time, but I was using my camera to do what photography does: allow you to capture something that’s about to disappear.

I was in my late 20s, had no children and lived near their home where I grew up. When I wasn’t working I would go back and forth, sometimes staying for a day or two. The images that later make up the book “Still Here” were created privately over a long period of time.

In my father’s photographs he is almost a child again in the way he had to be cared for. He is there and already gone. But my mother was 24 years younger than him and at the time I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t there. Looking back at the images now, I see the tension between the images of them, the different stages they were in. My mother is vulnerable but strong, active and in control, albeit with a weakness that predicts what is to come.

She was pleased that the pictures of her were quite intimate – one in the bath, another screwing in a lightbulb with her hair in curlers, something I don’t think I’d seen before. Both my parents were very supportive of the process, although only my mother got to see the pictures as a book and in exhibitions.

What immediately strikes you about this shot is the fact that it’s so green. The saturation of green becomes a kind of claustrophobic, enclosing and confining space: there is no place outside. But my mother looks away – from the camera, from the house, from me. She seems to be surveying her domain and reaching beyond, looking out for what might exist on the other side of the garden wall. It becomes symbolic of where she has been emotionally and psychologically, in her role as the younger partner taking care of the older one, knowing that she will soon be on her own.

She cuts a really interesting figure. She’s dressed pretty smartly, her hair is perfect and she wears clothes she could wear to work, although she also has slippers on. She has a strong stance, hands on hips, feet planted firmly on the ground, looking towards the corner of the garden where the two walls meet, invisible to us. But also in this corner is the clothesline, which I imagine as an umbilical cord going from the house to the boundary of the domestic realm and pulling it back.

Of course I read all this into the picture when, as far as I can remember, she was just seeing what needed to be done in the garden. But this photo reminds me of a picture I took of my daughter Eden in a plastic seedling tent in our garden during lockdown. There is a 10-year gap between the two images, but both evoke notions of love, protection and isolation – one was taken during a pandemic, the other during a different time that led to death. The themes of being a mother, becoming a mother, love, loss and time run through my work. This image of Eden appears in my Fugue series, which also includes a photo of my mother’s ashes being scattered in our own garden.

Lydia Goldblatt
Lydia Goldblatt

Curriculum Vitae Lydia Goldblatt

Born: London, 1978.
Educated: Masters in Photography, London College of Communication.
influences: “Rebecca Solnit, Rachel Cusk, Claire Wilcox, Eva Hoffman and Nigel Shafran, Rinko Kawauchi, Robert Adams, Sian Bonnell, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston.”
highlights: “To have the freedom to work, explore, think and experiment.”
low points: “Self-doubt that comes in many forms as a freelancer, as a creative, as a woman, as a mother.”
top tip: “Answer back to the self-doubt. Show work to people you trust.”

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