Soul-stirring portraits of enduring love and friendship

In his series “Mother and father”, Paddy Summerfield captures love in its most acute and piercing form. Frequently taken through windows, he photographs his parents in their garden in Oxford and then for a short time while holidaying in north Wales in the UK, between 1997 and 2007. Transpiring as their final ten years together, his photographs memorialize a period when his parents’ bodies and minds were in decline, however their love remained unshakable.

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Fine art photographer Paddy Summerfield was born and continues to live in Oxford, UK. Working in 35mm, he creates penetrating black and white photographic essays and observations of street life. “Mother and father” is one body of work that has seen the photographer lauded for his quiet observation of a deeply sad and private portrayal of two people’s love.

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The photographer comments: “My father works the garden, tends the land, and cares for my mother, who is trapped in her illness. And here I am, photographing them, from the house windows and in the garden. I photograph them through the seasons, time and time again; there is a mystery and melancholy in these distant figures.”

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There’s a sense of otherworldliness in Summerfield’s pictures that could only be achieved with analog photography. It evokes his mother’s loss of grip on the world as she is overcome by Alzheimer’s in the last decade of her life. Summerfield’s father cared for his wife during this time and as the years go by, their struggle into old age becomes more apparent; where their body language and faces demonstrate growing physical and mental struggle. Movement becomes more stiff and hugs become more anguished as both cling to each other, knowing that nature’s course is reaching its final coda.

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In the final sequence, following images of his mother in her critical stage of dementia, Summerfield’s father is depicted alone. In one scene, he’s shown to be reaching out to a shard of light coming through the trees: symbolizing the absence of his lifelong partner.

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Paddy Summerfield’s book is published pepperoni press and available to buy in store or online from 25Books.