Public Gallery 2014

Sian Davey

Book Proposal

The project that I would like to propose is called ‘Looking for Alice’. The work has taken place over the last year during my MA ‘Photography and the Book’ and is about my daughter Alice, born with Downs Syndrome in 2011. The photographs that make up this series explore the entwined narratives of both my relationship with my daughter and societies prevailing attitudes towards young people with Downs Syndrome.

Long before I started taking these photographs I worked through the narratives that I needed to include, in order to present a compelling, coherent and measured conversation about all these aspects. Once I started taking the pictures I stopped thinking and let the narratives present themseIves. I kept my camera with me at all times and throughout, I strongly sensed that this work came from a co-arising process between my daughter and I.

A number of aspects are included in the narrative of ‘Looking for Alice’. For example, it touches on the difficult issues around termination, institutionalisation and the history of limited medical care offered to Down’s children. It explores the more personal territory, such as the fact that Alice’s internal world is separate from my projections onto her as her mother, my fears about her lack of inclusion from her own peer group and wider society. It deals particularly with Alice’s relationship with the people around her and how she impacts upon others, especially in the context of her family. I have also included in the final edit, some quiet reflections about my deepening relationship with my daughter.

I feel that the book form is the most effective way to disseminate and communicate the diversity of stories imbedded in this work, both the personal and political. I visualise a large book with 42 colour images - the book having the quality of a children’s picture book, perhaps with parallels to how images have been used to tell stories, both hidden and explicit in the sequence. There is something about the book feeling intimate in nature which I feel will bring the viewer closer still to Alice’s world.

I have made a book dummy to look at sequencing and to explore the fundamental issues of how I would like this story to be told. So far, it starts by introducing Alice and placing Alice in the context of her family with three images named ‘Winter Virus’ (i, ii and iii) . As the sequence develops it explores stronger themes of alienation and society’s relationship with children like Alice. For example, there is an image of Alice watching her older sister and friends getting ready for their end of term school ball. This image is juxtaposed with another of Alice walking away, on her own, wearing a pink tutu. This particular sequence illustrates my fears as a mother - that my daughter will not be invited to ‘the party.’ This has the effect of slowing down, introducing a quieter, more reflective period in the book.

The image of Alice alone in her bed illustrates the history of institutionalisation as we are taken into yet another psychological space. Next, we see Alice marching off, oblivious to me her mother, or to the world around her - she is clearly her own person separate from my maternal anxieties. The book ends with Alice in a blue suit and red hat - I see this as the last image, with perhaps 2 blank pages to separate it from the rest of the book, to help us get closer to sensing something of Alice’s individual way of belonging in the world, while at the same time acknowledging that (as with the subject of any photographic portrait) this is a subjective world we can never fully inhabit.

The text is essential and in writing it I had to explore some key questions. What am I hoping to achieve? What do I want people to understand? What do people understand about children like Alice? I faced real challenges in communicating my experience. For example, if I wrote it as a campaign, from my head, fuelled by anger about what society has or has not done, I ran the risk of losing my audience, alienating and pushing the reader into a guilty or defensive response. I decided that the text had to be written from my heart, making the story intensely personal, disclosing my own struggle in coming to terms with my thoughts and feelings and my need for ‘perceived perfection’ – all part of the journey Alice and I have been on.

My project statement for ‘Looking for Alice’ is on my website