This is my story of severance.

This photographic performance explores the relationship I had with my mother and my own inability to conceive. It represents how I was cut out of my role as daughter and simultaneously denied the maternal role that I hoped would shape my future.

We (my mother and I) had been tentatively making work together using a single disposable camera. I would take a photograph of my life and then send the camera to her in the post; she would do the same. We tried to communicate through this process.

My fertility began to unravel not long after, but I was unable to concentrate on my story—hers soon took precedent. 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 concerned myself with recording her as she was, but I immediately felt the photograph’s inability to do this. As such, I photographed myself responding to my new 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. Ultimately, I gained a new role—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 found a new role: Orphan.

I put on her chemotherapy wig afterwards: it was the only thing that smelled like 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 the loss of feeling: her body when we hugged, 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


Editors’ note: We discovered Fairbrother’s work at the excellent portfolio review organized by Brighton Photo Biennial. The series above is an edited sequence from Fairbrother’s lovingly crafted, hand-made artist’s book of the same name.