This is Florence Broughton. It is the early 1930s and she is in her early twenties. She is a working class girl, a devout non-conformist from an East Lancashire mill town. She is a machine minder, tending a dozen or so cotton looms in a hot noisy mill. The rural setting and her “Sunday best” clothes suggest she’s out for a walk with her boyfriend after morning chapel and Sunday dinner. They probably took a tram to the terminus and walked up a country lane to a favourite spot. Her boyfriend had a half-plate mahogany and brass camera with red leather bellows, with which this photo was taken.
Florence married the boyfriend, Wilfred, and they settled for the fresh air of an east coast town far away from the noise, dust and dirt of the mills. They had two children, the second of which was me.
For me, this photograph is remarkable in that she has such a wonderful, open, happy smile – a smile I have no recollection of ever seeing her smile.
This lack of recognition disturbed me and I was brought to realise that, though she is one of the two or three most important people in my life, there is a huge part of her of which I know very little. She was 37 when I was born, approaching middle age and nearly half way through her allotted span. I suppose any mother of two children is different by far from a young, single woman courting her boyfriend. The girl here certainly seems so different from the woman I knew.
The first photographs in the portfolio reflect my need to reconcile myself to not knowing the woman who would become my mother. Then I strived to understand and represent our links and closeness, across this divide. Later I sought to piece together, from clues that remain, an idea of what sort of a person she was then, what were her interests.
Until I made these images I had always, from childhood, identified with my father. Perhaps most sons do this. However, when I put my face next to hers I recognised for the first time our close facial likeness. Our chins, lips, eyes, eyebrows, eyelids, even the lines on our foreheads, match up. It is perhaps surprising that I should be astonished by this but it is so, and welcome. I had just become an adult when I knew my mother at the age I am now, and my new feeling of greater closeness allows me to, belatedly, to understand her better. More significantly perhaps, I now feel a little more able to understand the person I am and who I may become.
I suppose that in showing these images to people I wish to interest and entertain. In truth, in making these pictures there is only one person from whom I seek approval.
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