© Ellen Nolan, Untitled, from the series Previous Personality, 10th March 2008
© Ellen Nolan, Untitled, from the series Previous Personality, 10th March 2009
© Ellen Nolan, Untitled, from the series Previous Personality, 9th September 2009
‘Previous Personality’ explores my relationship to my mother as she recedes into dementia. I started photographing my mother and myself when she stopped recognising me as her daughter.The documentation lasted for three years, exploring a journey of reversal and erosion. The title ‘Previous Personality’ is derived from a section in the form I had to fill out for my mother, upon admission to her institution.
There is a strangeness of being inherent in this condition, an altered state where the family member shifts into another being, whilst retaining the physical appearance of their former selves.
Photographically, I tried to reflect this state by creating images that are simultaneously uncomfortable and aesthetically pleasing. This mirrored the interior and exterior conflict of the illness.
My clothes were used as a visual reminder that whilst I had the freedom of personal expression, members of staff now chose my mother’s wardrobe, brought from a generic clothing company that visited the home on a monthly basis. I never got used to seeing my mother in these clothes, and together with her growing sense of alienation within her ‘home’, they came to visually represent her loss of self.
What remains when almost everything is stripped away? A silent negotiation took place through emotional and physical intimacy. Few words were exchanged, except repeated uttering’s of love and the remembering who I am and who she was.
Photography as a medium seemed to serve the situation well. It was a record to capture my dying mother, a means to examine our state, and perhaps to create an alternative family album.
Photography also seemed to fit the muteness of illness and ageing.
The decision to include myself followed my concerns with the objectification of my mother. I felt that by joining the frame, I would challenge my position and my safety as a photographer in order to further explore my role as a daughter and my relationship with my mother at this time.
More of Ellen’s work can be seen here