- Fine Arts photographer Paddy Summerfield took photos of his aging parents over the course of ten years.
- Toward the end of their 60-year marriage, his mother developed Alzheimer’s, and his father took on the role of caretaker for his wife.
- He compiled the images into a personal and touching photo essay called “Mother and Father.”
- The heart-wrenching collection showcases his parents’ unwavering devotion to each other and provides an intimate look at enduring love and loss.
- The resulting images may break your heart.
Summerfield told Business Insider that he and his parents lived in their North Oxford England home throughout the series.
The garden in the backyard was where the photographer’s parents spent a lot of their time.
The majority of the photos were taken from the vantage point of a second story window overlooking the garden.
“I was living at home with my parents — they were a subject close at hand,” Summerfield said.
The home’s garden was maintained by Summerfield’s father.
His gardening was one of the main commonplace activities shown in the photo series.
“My father read and wrote in the garden, they ate outside, my father grew flowers that my mother gathered,” Summerfield said.
“There was no need to travel to exotic spectacular places — I could lean out the window and take a picture at almost any moment,” he said.
Summerfield said that he had taken pictures of his parents throughout his whole life.
He would print them as collections and put them in albums to give to his parents as Christmas gifts.
But then a close friend encouraged him to turn the snapshots into a photo essay.
From 1997 to 2007, he took thousands of photos of his parents.
He said he knew he would continue photographing them as long as they were living.
He eventually had to filter through them and select photos for his series.
He looked for the photos “that had poetry.”
He also wanted the photos to truly tell the story of his parents’ relationship.
“It’s cumulative — each picture does not tell the story, but together they do,” Summerfield said.
“It is a photo novel,” he said.
Summerfield said he chose photos that are at a distance.
He captured his parents from behind so that “they become everybody’s parents.”
His series is comprised of 83 photos.
So there are still thousands taken in that 10-year span that haven’t been viewed by the public.
“There is a whole mass of work that has never been seen,” Summerfield said.
Summerfield said that when your parents are aging, the moments that you have are precious.
He said he just focused on crafting one good photo after another.
“It’s absorbing, and also a distraction from focusing on what was happening,” Summerfield said.
“It helped to be busy, to photograph obsessively,” he said.
Summerfield’s parents were married for over 60 years.
They were almost childhood sweethearts.
Summerfield’s mother would often watch his father in the garden lovingly from inside the house.
“My mother would see him through the kitchen window and — so she said — she never caught him actually working, but he would be standing admiring what he had just done, or thinking about what he would do next,” Summerfield said.
Summerfield said that his parents were understanding about their son’s project.
After all, their son was repeatedly taking photos of them.
But one day his father got a tad aggravated with him.
His father snapped at his son, annoyed that he was taking so long to get the shot he wanted.
But for the most part, Summerfield’s mother and father were very patient with being photographed over the years.
Most of the photo series takes place at their Oxford home …
… but scenes of the family vacationing in North Wales are also included.
They stayed at the same cottage whenever they made the trip.
They would return to it during the summer for over 50 years.
It was a pleasant environment.
“Wales was a peaceful and familiar place for them,” Summerfield said.
They would admire the sea or take a walk along the beach.
Sometime during Summerfield’s project, his mother began to develop Alzheimer’s.
She became gripped by memory loss.
She also became entirely dependent upon her husband.
Summerfield said that his mother’s illness frightened her.
She once told him, “The world doesn’t look like it used to.”
Summerfield said it was hard for his mother to discuss her experience with the disease.
He said he would watch children’s TV shows with her to cheer her up.
Anything to make her laugh with jokes and general silliness.
Like back in Oxford, Summerfield kept his distance when photographing his parents in North Wales.
The North Wales portion is placed at the mid-section of the series, breaking up the scenes at the family’s Oxford home.
A raven appears in several of the frames.
In multiple cultures, the bird is considered a symbol for death.
It’s also represented as a messenger of sorts.
And they can also symbolize the prediction of future events.
Summerfield was aware of the symbolism that the raven represented.
Summerfield said that his father was his mother’s lone caretaker.
“My father cared for her right to the end,” Summerfield said.
“He did not want any help from me, in looking after my mother,” Summerfield said.
“I could see his sadness, but he didn’t speak of it,” Summerfield said.
In 2000, Summerfield’s mother died.
She was 86 years old.
Summerfield continued to live with his father after his mother’s death.
He said he looked after him in his final years.
“We didn’t really discuss feelings; it was more about the household routines,” Summerfield said.
One day, Summerfield said he saw his father in the garden as the afternoon sun broke through the trees.
“He raised his arm,” Summerfield said. “Is it a greeting to the light, or a farewell? To me, this felt like a really spiritual moment.”
His father died in 2008, eight years after his wife.
Summerfield said he’s glad that he took the time to record his parents.
He said it feels like something that he could give back to them.
“My pictures make their love and care for each other into something enduring,” Summerfield said.
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