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 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 now and then 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 spent in post-stroke rehabilitation. 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; the stair lift, the walking frames, the tilted seat, but the aggregation of 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 and I want her to go there too.
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, but it doesn’t does it.