True Love Waits

My mother died.  Nearly 6 years after her first stroke, she is gone.  The incremental exit she’s been making has been tiring, but always bought her back from the brink.  I was sure she was going to die in my arms last October when she had a sudden and serious infection that she, rather amazingly, fought off.  But it took a lot of her with it when it subsided.

The last illness was pretty traumatic in some ways, for a few days it looked as if they could drag her back from the brink, but by the Saturday, she was having no more intervention, pulling out the cannulas and feeding tube, refusing all forms of treatment.  I’ve made it to 90, she seemed to say, Over and out.

She died alone around 1.30 in the morning.  I even think she chose that; she had had us all in, and mumbled things to us, none of which were understandable, a little pep talk, like all the other pep talks at school, before exams, the first day of university, leaving for Poland or Germany or Canada or where ever else I went.  Once we were gone – we had to go by 9 – and they had administered morphine, well she was sailing off on that lovely fluffy skiff.  A nice way to go if you ask me.

But now there is the rest of my life without her.  Quite a lot of the past 6 years has been without her too, but the finality of the hearse drawing up outside the crematorium sent me into a tearful spin.  I have burst into tears on the Overground a couple of times, and in the pub and just sitting at this desk where I am writing this.  I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be her loved and loving daughter.


An Elizabethan Poem in an Unexpected Place

So I am sitting next to my semi-conscious mother on the medical assessment ward and I suddenly find Thomas Wyatt’s “they flee from me that sometime did me seek” sloshing about in my head.  Until now I had always thought it the self dramatising lament of a roué in his cups having just been knocked back by a teenage waitress.  But right now it seems entirely appropriate.

Most of the patients on the medical assessment unit are old.  Properly old. My mother will be 90 on Wednesday if she survives, and I am not sure she is the oldest.  Everyone is moved around on wheels, on gurneys, in wheelchairs, even a special stand that moves them from bed to chair and back. Everything has some mechanism that raises, lowers, angles, enables positions to change from a to b because the subject cannot do this on their own.

Each one of the patients looks old. Oversized ears, saggy skin in various shades from blue tinted, pink and grey and yellowish. Dalmatian spots on the skin, great welts on brown and black that look almost brindled where it is creased and folded.  Some have blankets of fat that now just hang where before they would have tightly wrapped the frame. Everything sags and slackens and time seems to be pulling them towards the centre of the earth.  In fact there is so much collective time in those rooms it is surprising the mass of all this experience, hundreds of years, thousands of experiences all bundled up into sepsis fractures and various stages of dementia doesn’t drag all of us with it.

But the most surprising thing is the solitude. At this stage in their lives when they need other people most the supply is depleted especially that of familiar peers. My mother is the only one with constant company or at least the maximum regulations allow. The woman in the next bed will be collected by a friend because it is too late for the professional careers who normally look after her. She is being discharged into the home of someone who neither a child or any other family.  This doesn’t help. There may be me and then my brother and then my sister in law and then another brother and another sister in law and eventually my eldest brother who is her primary carer. But despite this band of the familiar, intimate and loving, it is difficult for any of us to tell what she is asking for when she tries to communicate. We can guess, me least well of all because I live so far away. I just do not really know her day to day requirements and nor do I understand all of her ticks and gasps.

Later, thinking about this; I recall that on the first night she started to kind of speak and I think she said mother and also her sister’s name and maybe also husband. She was involved in some story that we could only see the temporal side of.  This seemed to distract her until my brother and I   decided it was time to leave and she became visibly upset so she was more conscious than we thought. So we waited for her to slip back into sleep before we left.

On the whole she was comfortable and calm because of us. She was lucky that the silk she had spun between us was strong and stretched so far. Having love that cannot be reflected back is what makes us difficult, unlovable, lonely.  I can only express my gratitude at the kindness and gentleness with which the staff treated someone they didn’t know at all.

Which made the Wyatt make sense as it is about having a broken heart because the object of his affection has told him to sling his hook. We’ve probably all been there. Dumped and exiled from out happy place. The only thing that will fix it is a return to that person who doesn’t want us back doesn’t want to come back.  Then what we need is a high dependency unit for emotional wrecks.

I am not an atheist, however…

I just had a ‘discussion’ with an american christian on twitter. He ended up asking me if I was a liberal theologian. I have never been asked that before. I’m liberal, I’m educated and particularly interested in history and religion because they are so intertwined, but the very idea that I would have to be a theologian to think the way I do about faith and god and all of he other stuff was kind of shocking and completely hilarious if you know anything about the way i was bought up, which was as an atheist, not a ranty dawkins type, just a bog standard, show me a talking burning bush and I’ll be more than happy to eat my words rather than this delicious M&S prawn and mayo sandwich which I paid for with my credit card. yeah, seafood and usury, you may be surprised how much bible I know.

Surely everybody who has faith and certainly anybody who uses that faith as the foundation of all of their actions, especially in the way they treat others or encourage them to be treated, surely everybody with faith should be prepared to challenge it. Otherwise you don’t really have faith, you just have tasks.

I just do not understand how a man sitting in Washington who I suspect speaks very little aramaic or greek or even latin could seriously tell me to read my bible without thinking, heck that sounds properly dumbassed, 140 characters tells me very little about this other human being.

I just want to kick people who say things like ‘it’s in the bible’ and have never even tried to learn another language, any language. Because if they did they would understand what a minefield that book they cleve to so strongly is: a translation of lots of other bits and things, with its historical jumps and metaphors, its ambiguities, conceptual problems, social world view and mystical explanations for things we understand as general shit that happens in the world these days. Read the bible? I have read a lot of the bible and much of it makes no sense at all if you try and transfer it to now with even the best will in the world.

But the sukiest bit of the bible II are the judgemental rantings of ex pharisee (google them, they were not the nicest people) St Paul who was of course the one my twitter pal said i should read. You see, the initial argument had been about homosexuality being a sin, which is arrant bollocks and nobody gets away with telling me it is in the bible when we all know it is in the bits of the bible where they also tell you not to eat prawns – I am speaking as an omnivore here…

I have looked a few times for various reasons including homosexuality and I can tell you in bible II jesus is properly silent on this, with a pinch of salt you could say that when jesus discusses marriage he says that is for a man and woman where they become one, but as that is part of a discussion about divorce and thus property, not about love which is not the same as property but is something that the gamut of sexualities all have in common.

When pointed it out my american pal said the apostle paul is very clear on that particular subject. I said apostles are not generally seen as the son of god, unlike jesus (I’m not saying this lineage is fact, I’m quoting the, errr, bible). The upshot of my argument was why would you bother with the words of the monkey when the organ grinder’s son is in the house, unless you are looking for a way to legitimise your anti leopard rhetoric. to strain the metaphor while increasing the animal imagery.

the bible is not a historical document that was written in english so taking it at face value in translation is the act of a credulous fool. The person who uses this translation to further hate or judgement is far worse than that and you do not need to be a liberal nor a theologian to see that.

He made me cross.

Which may be ironic, though I definitely won’t be using Alanis Morissette as my source on that one.

Surface and Light

We put up our first e5Process Exhibition in the Archive Gallery at the Rose Lipman Library, ex-home of my old alma mater Open School East in mid November.

An exhibition of experimental photography practice from the E5 Process Darkroom Collective.  Archive Gallery, Mill Co Project, Rose Lipman Building, 43 De Beauvoir Rd, London N1 5SQ.


Guy Paterson
Tina Rowe
Ben Bradish
Douglas Nicolson
Sebnem Ugural
Liz Loveless
Adrian Ensor
Pauline Morphett
Rachel Thomson
Balint Bolygo

Event Photos on Facebook

My Mother’s House

My mother lives in a care home. She sits in a chair with her back to the window alone watching television all day. My brother recently put one of those convex blind spot mirrors so she could see out of the window like the The Lady of Shalott. Her life is arranged on two shelves and in various draws in an area of roughly 2 square meters. She refuses to go to the communal rooms because ‘it is full of dotty old people who can’t talk sense’ and that is to some degree true as there is everything in this place from advanced Alzheimer to a broken hip in need of some rest. The thing that unifies them is their inability to look after themselves left in this place that serves to meet that need and nothing beyond. Each one of these unique individuals is lumped together like fleeing refugees from disparate places, in a holding pen united in ruin and chaos and processed at pretty much the same level of care which is sometimes excellent, usually good but sometimes petty, mean spirited and on more than one occasion vindictive.

Before she moved to the care home, she lived in her own home that had been adapted to enable her to return there after 15 weeks in hospital . I photographed this home over a period of two years, partially because I was bored watching middle class white people kill each other in differing ways in multiple time periods on ITV2 but also because I thought it would be interesting to use a disabled camera to photograph the home of a disabled person. I put the photographs on my website and people would say they like them and also say how clearly they were the home of an old person. That wasn’t just the apparatus that enabled her to live there, but the things, the colours the absurd number of nested tables and the back of the Daily Express thimble collections. This is a recognized habitat, these are the signposts and culture of recognizable group of people with a set of values and beliefs that I do not share but is what she most wants to go home to.

Sometimes my mother can be a mean and bitter old woman. I’ve seen her be rude to the carers in a manner that is totally out of character for her. But then she’s held prisoner by her body in this place she hates a 15 minute walk from her home that is still filled with the things in these photographs but it might as well be on the moon. And I’m nostalgic too. I’m in no real danger of war or terrorism, but I am getting older. There can be no comparison between the horrors that have been going on in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Ukraine and countless other places. But my body, like my mother’s body is sprung with booby traps, I don’t feel fragile but I know with each passing day I’m heading in that direction. We think of refugees as people fleeing from some cataclysm but in truth we are all heading towards our own potential exile. It should make us more circumspect when we think about our habitat and more willing to share it with those who are denied their own.


My practice went to Barcelona and all I got was this tiny badge.

A badge for all seasons

I have been on an artistic exchange in the Catalan village of Vilassar de Dalt as part of the Revela-t analogue photo festival with nine other artists and it was great. Well the first night when we almost had to walk 10km back to hostel wasn’t a high point and if I am honest sitting through a movie in Catalan subtitled in Spanish before that was also not a high point and I won’t bore you with the details of the full English tribute breakfast I had for dinner which to be honest was definitely not a high point, but all in all with the series of challenges the residency threw up, plus getting to meet and work with some totally wonderful people from places as far away as Bolivia, Colombia, France, the Netherlands, Spain  and, er, Barcelona (via Argentina) was pretty damn good.

The village of Villassar de Dalt had been a cloth mill town much like those you find along the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire in Lancashire even including tied houses for the workforce.  It suffered the same fate and the factories that had closed one by one until the last had become a pale wraith of itself where crude and smutty messages were screen printed on t-shirts shipped in from who knows where for sale to the heirs of the English working classes on their two weeks of sun sand and sin in Mallorca.  Eventually that too collapsed and they left in what appears to have been some sort of a hurry leaving an empty building with a remarkable cache of abandoned silk screens, empty barrels of inks and a fair amount of book keeping scattered across the top floor.

Low art

Classy Stuff

I had intended to do one project but due to some logistic flim flam I ended up deciding to do something else entirely in a disused factory.  It was sound but derelict with crusty wads of dust everywhere and birds flying about in the frequently windowless rooms. On the ground floor was a massive exhibition of some really good contemporary analogue photography part of a huge group of exhibitions spread across the entire village.  Above was two further floors of the kind of picturesque decrepitude that would cause a hipster to cash in their trust fund and start a creativity hub.

I cannot describe the pure pleasure of being told here is it, knock yourself out.  The other photographers did things with wet plate and dry plate and collodion, handmade pinhole with instant film, Lieca and Hasselblad.  I did stuff with string and cloth and rubber bands and a holga pinhole camera.  I’m like that.

This is what the factory looked like

And this is some of what I did.  But if you want to see the results, you are going to have to wait a while because this stuff is going to take a while.

The other artists on the exchange were:

Ana Tornel

Juan Blas Leal Lopez

Joaquin Paredes Piris

Marie-Noëlle Leroy

Camilo Sabogal B

Paula Rae Gibson

Francisco Gómez

Pierre Van de Vliert

Wara Vargas Lara

Christine Rendina


I was angry with someone recently, not annoyed, but angry at the way they have behaved.  This isn’t a person I have ever particularly liked, but I didn’t dislike them either.  But now they have capped off already questionable behaviour with some low level hostility that has stuck in my craw and I had been internalising all of this into a stupid bat of paranoia paranoid with which I had been beating myself up and as a result, work came to a bit of a halt.

Well not entirely as I started mulling over a project and slowly working on the constituent parts, kind of like taking up a run before I launch myself at the pieces but I have been looking for a suitable subject to start with and the only human that I really want to use it the person who has pissed me off.   The work i am thinking about includes some text, references to biblical thieves and the hard word that describes a section of female genitalia.  The question is should I do it?

This work is complicated and intricate, the final pieces will be intended to be perceived as beautiful, but it is made from anger and added spite.  I wonder if it will work.  I wonder why I can’t put the idea down, maybe it’s a cure.  I have certainly felt a lot better about making work since I started to make my personal ideas explicit, even if only to me.

The Obscure

The title of this piece is the Obscure after the book about Jude Fawley by Thomas Hardy.  The image is also printed on the text from a 1917 edition.  There are lots of reasons for this but the main one is if you don’t have an education, you are screwed.

the obscure

I’ve never read all of Jude the Obscure despite the fact that Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite writers. It’s just too bleak and sad. Even Michael Winterbottom’s film with Christopher Ecclestone and Kate Winslet is too much for me to sit through; poverty, siblicide, suicide all under the gaze of the unforgiving lemon sucking Victorian establishment.  But I know a lot about this book because it pivots on the the desire for education.  I cannot begin to imagine how my life would have turned out without the access to education I had.

The first work by Hardy I ever read was Return of the Native for A level English at night classes having screwed up royally first at secondary and then art school.  Very early on in the novel he introduces his heroine standing on top of some ancient earth works, stock still until she turns and scuttles away as other people approach to build a bonfire. He places her alone in the landscape, adrift, at odds and Eustacia Vye spends the rest of the novel being pretty objectionable, but given her circumstances it’s hardly surprising.

Eustacia’s options are even more spartan than Jude’s, he just wants to study and his access to formal study is reliant on a background very different from his own. Nevertheless, he teaches himself classical Greek and Latin but his biology gets the better of him and he ends up marrying someone he really shouldn’t have. Had he been rich, nothing could possibly have stood in his way, but he isn’t, so he can’t. He doesn’t want an education in order to get a job in a bank, he just wants to be a scholar. But although Jude’s tragedy is in part due to his inability to get a place at Christminster, he is also crushed by his passionate, destructive and blinkered pursuit of what he thinks is worthwhile.  Eustacia’s position is more binary, she is half Italian and thus foreign and weird and she’s a she.  Jude could have contented himself with being a smart fella in a crap job and maybe with a lucky break he could have met some progressive types and found a place for himself.  Eustacia can marry an idiot who chucks a perfectly good job away in order to get closer to nature thus rendering himself and his wife to a life on the breadline, or become the mistress of a cad.

So far, so Victorian.  In Hardy’s hands the Return of the Native despite it’s rigid social and religious framework is still a good read, the descriptions of the countryside are cinematic, the inflections, accents and dialects are rendered in a way that makes the believable and even in a weird way quite current.  I recognize the stark contrast between being rural poor and unable to escape and and affluent incomer who can be comfortable. I grew up Malvern, a very pretty place where there was also real hardship and poverty that the casual observer would often find incomprehensible – you must love it there, such a beautiful place – .  Despite it’s hippy dippy reputation, Malvern had its problem people and Malvern being Malvern didn’t treat those viewed as outside the social acceptability paradigm in a fair or equitable manner.  Ask ‘Super Chav’ and ex-resident Cher Lloyd about the joys of being other in South West Worcestershire.

If anything this is the core of what I find most appealing about his work; that even under a vast shared sky, there is an implacable order that education can circumvent (unless you find a powerful allay), but that in order to get that education, far more so now than when I was an undergraduate, your chances, access and ability to use that learning is predicated on the luck and affluence of your family.

Education has been the making of me and lack of it was in part the cause of my father’s idea of failure.  I have chosen to live the way I do in order to learn, in order to have, in order to make but also always to take care that the things that I was working towards were realistic.  He chose to make other sacrifices in order to give us his family a nice life.  His awareness of his own failures with education propelled me into making sure I was protected as best I could from the impact of the outside world on my internal peace of mind.  To keep me cushioned from the vagaries of the job market and to get me as close as I possibly could to achieve the things I dreamed of.   His name was Graham Simon (1926-1979) and he encouraged me to dream.

The aye’s have it

I was on my way somewhere yesterday and I saw this.  There is something more powerful about the crude the scratching out of the eyes of a human form in an image than most other forms of alteration.

A photo posted by Tina Rowe (@tinarororo) on

Thinking about it, I reckon most forms of interference with the eyes turns things sinister with immediate effect.

Sarah Koponen‘s image of George Bush, although powerful, lacks the creepiness that the other two images have.  This image appears to me to depersonalise the president, more a criticism of the role in general.  It isn’t creepy, it seems a little contemptuous of it’s subject, but mostly it seems to be showing him as foggy and insubstantial.

Of course defacing faces isn’t new and it isn’t just political.  Many of the remaining medieval church paintings in England have undergone various assaults and the faces are the areas that seem to suffer most damage.

While I was writing this post I did a bit of searching around the idea of defacing portraits and came across the work of Caroline Jaine who has what I think is a rather superb group of portraits here: un-portraits

The Thin Black Line and the Broad White One.

I went to a talk between Lubaina Himid and Paul Goodwin at the Whitechapel Gallery last week.  They discussed three exhibitions she had worked with in the 1980s: Five Black Women at the Africa Centre (1983), Black Women Time Now at Battersea Arts Centre (1983-4) and The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1985).  It was illuminating and more than a little  depressing.   One thing that got wedged in my head was how the exhibition at the ICA, deeply symbolic in a conduit between the big art stuff (ironically very small artworks by Richard Tuttle) and the bookshop, had been reviewed by Waldemar Januszczak who dismissed the exhibit as ‘angry’.   That is the same Waldemar Januszczak who I recently had a short Twitter exchange with on the subject of the Oriel College Rhodes Must Fall campaign.  He saw the idea of taking down the statue as censoring the past and likened the people who wanted to remove the object to the Taliban.  He called me idiotic for saying the comparison is idiotic but, regrettably, he didn’t answer my question as to whether it was also censorship for some post communist countries to have taken down their images of communist leaders and other socialist inspirational types.  I guess he was busy.

Anyway, at the moment, the admittedly entertaining Januszczak, is striding about various locations for his programme  The Renaissance Unchained  with what frequently looks like an empty suitcase (ha!) banging on about the marvels of  northern european painting sculpture and architecture that has been buried under the italian big beasts when it comes to discussing the art of the Renaissance.  He has a point.   I too love the intricacies of Durer’s Roller’s Wing and Cranach’s Adam and Eve, I’m glad he gets to push the viewer in their direction.  The thing is he is a determined revisionist and that rankles because of his obdurate approach to Rhodes’ statue which as far as I’m concerned has no aesthetic value whatsoever as it’s main purpose seems to be to make people  walk beneath the feet of the person who funded an important scholarship, placing no emphasis at all on the fact that this is a statue of someone who could be described as a founding father of apartheid.