Paddy Summerfield's Voyage Around My Mother forms a sort of coda to his Mother And Father (Dewi Lewis Publishing 2014), and represents the opening section of a yet-to-be-published essay World Without End. This is its first appearance in print – and we are duly grateful to Then There Was Us magazine. These images were exhibited as part of Photo Oxford 2020, one of the few photo festivals of 2020 offering actual images on actual walls, as well as the online exhibitions and virtual galleries. As with his other essays, Summerfield creates an almost cinematic narrative, with the slow time of long takes and recurring motifs.
In Voyage Around My Mother we see the photographer's parents approaching the boundaries of their lives; appropriately they are shown on the coast, alongside the physical boundaries of sea and sky, with a western horizon expressing a sense of hope. Limited by illness and frailty, the mother gazes from the window at birds that whirl, more free than her, as vagrant as her wandering thoughts; through these birds, Summerfield offers a sense of her inner life.
Melancholy and tenderness combine in a strongly moving sequence. This is a love story, with the sadness of separation created by illness, and by the inevitable end. Unlike the universality of Mother And Father, created by distances, back views, averted faces, here we are brought closer to the characters – faces are visible, specific, expressions distinguishable. They are held by Summerfield's lens, gazing as he has gazed for decades, with the intense tenderness of a small close family, yet permeated with the sadness of inevitable loss.
Words by Patricia Baker-Cassidy