> Conversations with my mother

Jessa Fairbrother / Conversations with my mother


This is my story of severance.

It explores the relationship I had with my mother and my own inability to become one. It is a photographic performance of being cut from the role of daughter while at the same time denied a maternal role to shape my future.

We had been tentatively making work together using a single disposable camera, taking photographs of our own lives. I would take one and send the camera to her in the post; she would do the same. We tried to communicate through this process.

Not long after my fertility began to unravel. I was unable to concentrate on my story because it was then we both found out she was going to die.

I dismantled my existing life to relocate and care for her, my second parent dying of cancer. In the immediate moment I was concerned with the gesture to record her as she was but felt the photograph’s inability to do this. I photographed myself responding to the surroundings, to negotiating space. Once or twice I asked my mother to photograph me, echoing the way we had used a camera only a few months before. I tried to make sense of things that had no sense except sadness.

I jostled with several personas during this period – wife, daughter, sister, artist. I gained new roles and became Carer. I became child-less…. or child-free. We strived to understand and love each other more completely; we looked at each other seeking resemblance, resentment, entanglement and reliance. I became Orphan.

An orphan.

I put on her chemotherapy wig afterwards – it was the only thing that smelled of her. I burned, buried and embellished photographs of us. I performed my grief and began to stitch.

I cried a lot for her. I cried for my loss of feeling the hug of her body, her touch, her laugh. I cried in sorrow at the abrupt suspension of future narratives, for the mother I would not hold again and for the child who would never hold me.


 – Jessa Fairbrother, 2016




Jessa Fairbrother explores the familiar and the personal, where yearning and performance meet each other in photography. After completing a BA Hons in English, studying at drama school and working in regional journalism, she later lectured in photography before completing an MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster in 2010.

These experiences informed her shift towards increasingly interdisciplinary practice, slowly moving from enactment within the photograph to performing on the photograph’s surface after the event. Recurring themes of behaviours shaped by memory, role-play and visual consumption underpin her long-term projects. Frequently using the idea of theatre, the studio or a set to stage work she employs her body as a site in which past and present, real and fictional, blend into one. The purpose of thread, mark-making and stitch are central, physically perforating, piercing and extending the image-object beyond a single time and space.

Her artist book of Conversations with my mother is held in the libraries of both the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as in the Rare Books and Manuscripts collection at Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. Additionally, she has performed the text to this work as a monologue for the Freud Museum, London as part of a conference on Freud’s work ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. Recent exhibitions include a solo show Armour studies (regarding skin) at Vittoria Street Gallery, Birmingham City University, and the group exhibitions A Decade of Gifts and Acquisitions, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; FIX Photo Festival, London; My Mother’s Daughter, Free Space Projects, London; and Handmade III, Anzenberger Gallery, Vienna. Awards include the 2017 GRAIN Portfolio Award at Format International Photography Festival and shortlisting for the 2017 Jerwood Makers Open.