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Rosy Martin - I didn't put myself down for sainthood.

Rosy Martin - I didn't put myself down for sainthood.

Rosy Martin in collaboration with Verity Welstead

Rosy Martin said of the series:

"Working with Verity Welstead I reconnected to complex, myriad, conflicting, ambivalent emotions to make visible what it meant and how it felt to be my Mother's carer.

I take an autobiographical, affective approach to the photographic. The mother-daughter dyad features prominently for women exploring interpersonal relationships and psychic formations. I have returned again and again to this within my practice as my investigations shifted from contestation, through empathy to reparation. I use photography to reflect upon and reconsider this all too familiar, once taken-for-granted, when faced with dementia, loss and death.

I was her only daughter, her 'greatest mistake' born just after the War, long after her two boys who were grown, already to leave home by the time I arrived. I was resistant to the dutiful daughter role, and indeed her expectations but I was the only child available when she needed support, after my father died. Ambivalence vied with acceptance and love. Slowly but inevitably the daughter became the vulnerable widowed mother's carer.

It was the multi-infarct dementia, slowly but inexorably doing its damage that made the daughter/carer role so very hard. I always tried to support her in her independence, careful not to take her power away, yet I also had to protect her from her confusions. I learnt degrees of patience I did not think I was capable of. Yet said to one of her drop-in carers 'I did not put myself down for sainthood' as my Mother's dementia days stretched to months then years. This expressed the sense of my commitment to a belief that I had to be there for her, ease her suffering, interpret and intercede in the world for her, make everything better, whilst knowing I would finally fail. I cannot abandon her, whilst she must abandon me.

This is the carer's role: unsung, uncelebrated, and unacknowledged. Exhaustion intercedes until all personal, physical and emotional resources seem used up. Then even more is needed. Being on constant 'red alert' for a new emergency, an everyday crisis is wearing. At times so weary, as if a vampiric despot was consuming my very life-blood. Sometimes enraged by the impossibilities of communication and endless repetitions that could never be satisfactorily answered. Leave, let go. The psychosis of dementia required a 'being with', acceptance and holding, to learn another kind of loving." Rosy Martin, 2018

The work was first exhibited at the Arnolfini Bristol in the exhibition A Picture of Health. Women Photgraphers from the Hyman Collection, as an iconostatis. It was accompained by the following explanatory wall text:

"Artist, photographer, and photo therapist Rosy Martin's work is primarily concerned with memories, identities and unconscious processes, exploring the potential meanings that lie within domestic photography. She uses re-enactment phototherapy, in a performative self-portraiture to explore the feelings that too often lie hidden and unspoken.

Martin's work examines the ambivalence that she felt about caring for her mother during her long illness of multi-infarct dementia. The title of this series I didn't put myself down for sainthood, refers to something that Martin said to one of her mother's drop-in carers. Playing with religious iconography, Martin's virtuous blue saints suggest a positive societal view of caring, whilst the white angels suggest her own conflicting emotions.

On the one hand, the blue figures reflect the sense of commitment Martin felt and the assumption from others that she had to be there for her mother. Martin has talked about the need to 'ease my mother's suffering and to interpret and intercede in the world for her' and 'to make everything better whilst knowing I will finally fail.' On the other hand, the white figures reveal the desolation of exhaustion as well as the underlying anger that she felt was inappropriate to express.

'The psychosis that can accompany dementia required a 'being with', acceptance, infinite patience, tolerance and emotional holding. Such a life lesson, so very hard and yet in another way, so necessary and easy. It was a strange gift, but still a gift, to learn another kind of loving.
Martin worked with collaborator Verity Welstead on the series.


Rosy Martin would like to ask A Picture of Health's audiences to consider: 'How are you silencing yourself? And What would it be like to speak your truths and who needs to hear?'

All images © the artist or copyright holder | Website © The Hyman Collection 2021