Projects

Looking for Alice: a mother’s gradual acceptance of her daughter, born with Down’s Syndrome

All images from the series Looking for Alice © Sian Davey

Alice was born with Down's Syndrome. Her mother at first struggled to accept her. "I wondered how it might be for Alice to be valued without distinction," Sian Davey says, "without exception and without second glance."

On one level, Looking for Alice is an illustration of family life, says Sian Davey, with “all the tensions, joys, ups and downs that go with the territory”. But on another, this photography series challenges perceptions of difference, because it focuses on images of her youngest daughter, who was born with Down’s syndrome.

“The photographs explore the entwined narratives of my relationship with my daughter, and society’s prevailing attitudes towards people with Down’s syndrome,” she says. A trained psychotherapist, Davey speaks openly about her feelings – from her “deep shock” when her Alice was born, to the gradual acceptance that allowed her to “fall in love with my daughter”.

Before the Ball

“It was not what I had expected,” she continues. “I was fraught with anxiety that rippled through to every aspect of my relationship with her… I saw that Alice was feeling my rejection and that caused me further pain. The responsibility lay with me; I had to dig deep into my own prejudices and shine a light on them.”

In Davey’s photographs, we see Alice smile, cry and play as every child does; she is, as the photographer points out, “no different to any other human being”. “I wonder how it might be for Alice to be valued without distinction, without exception and without second glance,” she writes.

Winter Virus

Davey had to mentally prepare herself before starting to shoot the project, and spent two years working on it before she felt it was finished. “Once I was clear on the psychological and political aspects that I wanted to be present in the work, I felt I could begin,” she says. “I worked in a way that accessed both my conscious ideas and some of the more unconscious ones that arose. When images presented themselves, I found they were rich with signifiers of the ideas I had been thinking about. On reflection, I feel this was an inter-subjective process between my daughter and myself.”

Davey is currently studying for an MA in Photography with tutors Jem Southam and David Chandler at Plymouth University, and one of the images in Looking for Alice was selected for the 2014 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. Photography is “seamless to the rest of my life”, she says. “The camera has turned onto my stepdaughter Martha as I think about my relationship with my own mother.

“It is an attempt to understand who I have become.”

UPDATE: After the success of the project, Davey is partnering with Trolley Books to publish a photobook of the series. To support the project and pre-order a copy, click here.

See more of Sian’s work here.

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