'Matthew Finn's portraits of his mother at home are tender to a point but far from saccharine. They portray a sense of vulnerability - on occasions she looks lost and drawn despite her cosy domestic setting. The trust that the subject puts into her documenter is testament to the closeness of their relationship, and it is this that lends the images their power'.
The Guardian Culture Magazine
Matthew Finn (b. 1971 Leeds) finished his Degree in Photography from Derby University in 1994 then gained an MA from Westminster University in Photographic Studies during which he continued to work on personal photographic projects that developed over a long period of time. With no commercial constraints or deadlines, Finn cultivated a working practice of an auteur, in charge of all elements of the work where the craft of the print and the whole process became important to the photographer. Working on subjects about people that were and are important in his life, he made and continues to make images of students whom he has worked with in various art colleges in England and a collaboration with his mother whom he had photographed within her home environment for over 30 years. With his mother diagnosed with dementia and her subsequent move into a sheltered 24 hour nursing home, the nature of the work changed moving away from collaboration to one of passive sitter and with the death of Jean on Mother’s day 2018 the act of photographing came to an end.
School of Art
During the 1990s with New labour in government, Brit Pop, the YBAs it was still possible to find pockets of liberal, free thinking attitudes to making art, surrounded by stunning crumbling decor, large windows, high ceilings and polished parquet flooring. The Victorian buildings that housed these Schools of Art allowed the students an environment where these creative young individuals cultivated ideas and opinions and made work that they believed in whilst still adhering to the old traditions still relevant in the Art School. Students lost in academic systems could break free from the shackles of uniforms and rule and begin to find their own identity. This was, after all, Cool Britannia.
“No more rules, we were finally free! We expressed our thoughts and deepened struggles through art, music and other mind blowing experiences.
It wasn't a formal learning institution it was a gathering of like minded, highly sensed crazy minds. We were able to expand our creativity in any direction we wanted” (Sonya. Art Student. 1997)
In 1987 Finn started to make pictures of his Mother set within her home in Leeds. With the death of his father he was to find out startling revelations about his dad. Married to 5 women at the same time except Jean, Finn’s mother, he made the decision to become the man in her life who could be depended upon.
The act of photographing took the place of conversation and the difficult questions that needed answers. Over the next 30 years we follow jean from middle age to old age through the onset of dementia and finally the passing her passing in 2018. We see her over and over again in the kitchen, the living room, the garden. Sometimes lost in thought, other times aware of the cameras presence always a willing subject.
“ In 2014 I showed a box of prints to my mum. Sat by the kitchen table where we had spent many times photographing I asked which were her favourite pictures of herself. She fell silent for a moment then after a pause she quietly said “The ones where I’m younger in” reflecting on the pictures in front of her after another pause she said “I’ve lived a good life”
Mother, I’ve Lived a good Life was exhibited at Francesca Maffeo Gallery in November 2017.
Alongside Mother, Finn documented his uncle, Jean’s older brother. Neither married they lived together in Leeds for 76 years until the death of Des in 2014. Uncle is a documentary body of work that fits into the work of Mother. We see him but in many of the pictures he is a shadow or reflected, he is not the main protagonist within this photographed household but like the Photo Album with the missing father taking the pictures, he is very much present in the lives of Jean and Matthew.
“My uncle was difficult to photograph, he always smiled and was very much my father. When my own dad would promise a bike for Christmas or a new jacket for a birthday, it would be my uncle that made it happen. He never let me down. He supported my passion for photography without asking any questions, he made it possible for me to go to University. He was the man in both our lives. He died the same way he had lived. He made it easy for us. His final words to me were “ All good things must come to an end “ “
Finn is the recipient of the Jerwood/Photoworks 2015 Awards. Mother was published by Dewi Lewis Publishing in 2017
His work has been included in Dazed Magazine, 1000 Words, The Guardian, Leica Fotographie International Magazine, Source magazine, Black & White Photography Magazine and many more.
His work has been exhibited at Jerwood Space, London, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, Belfast Exposed, Impressions Gallery, Bradford and The National Portrait Gallery, London, Francesca Maffeo Gallery, Leigh-on-sea and Somerset House, London.
His project Mother was recorded by the BBC Radio 4 and aired on radio and BBC iplayer in November 2017 and was awarded program of the week.
Mother & Uncle will be exhibited for the first time together at London Art Fair, January 2019 in the group show Who’s looking at the family, now? curated by Tim Clark
School of Art will be published by Stanley/Barker in May 2019
© Matthew Finn
Interview with Matthew Finn