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Aaron Tennant is a British photographer currently based in Lisbon, Portugal. A recent graduate from Middlesex University, Aaron shares his work Bacon from Cows, a project highlighting his mother’s mental health difficulties and the impact on his family.
The title of this work originates from an event that took place at a happier time in my life when I was younger. My family was still together, and we were driving back home from Wales when I asked my dad what would happen if a cow fell off the hill and was hit by our car. My mother instantly responded that we would have a lot of bacon. My dad, my brother and I immediately laughed. My mother was confused, and didn’t understand why we were laughing until one of us informed her that bacon doesn’t come from cows. This moment is a memory I keep from a certain time when everything was happier. Everyone felt safe and loved because we had each other.
My mother is a figure in my life that I am both scared of, and love. Her life is submerged in depression and suicidal tendencies. This project explores the growing isolation my mother experiences due to her past.
You’ve just graduated from Middlesex University. How did you get into photography?
I’ve always loved getting a disposable camera when I went away on trips and at family events I would borrow my grandad’s camera and take portraits to document the night. Since then I just fell in love with capturing the moment and the story you can tell and how you can use photography in so many different ways and forms to explain what it is that your work is looking into. I feel that this openness to the possibility of freedom allows people to express themselves.
Your project Bacon from Cows is a study of your family, primarily your mother’s difficulties due to her “depression and suicidal tendencies.” How did the project come about and has it always been natural for you to photograph your family?
This project is something that I’ve thought about for a long time as it’s always something that I’ve wanted to learn more about from my mother, but never had the courage to ask my mum about this part of her life.
My mum doesn’t like being in front of the camera and she never has, so getting her to be involved with this work was a little hard to begin with. At first she said that she didn’t want me to do this project. I showed her the work that I had done perviously and told her that this work isn’t for myself, it’s to open the door for more conversations about mental health. It took me several weeks of me shooting her environment and slowly adding her into the image before she felt comfortable to have her portraits taken.
If possible, can you say a little bit about your mother’s difficulties and how that has impacted the family?
My mother suffers from clinical depression and suicidal tendencies and has done for as long as I can remember. My mum has been on antidepressants since I was growing up and my mum had several [suicide] attempts. I can’t remember all of them but I remember the time I spent at my grandparents’ while she was in hospital. When my dad left my mum 6 years ago it was possibly the worst attempt, as me and my brother Elliot had never seen my mum try it [suicide], but Elliot found my mum when she overdosed when he was 14. My mum doesn’t have much family left but her friendship group is also small and they talk perhaps once every 2 months so the people around her seem to try to get her doing the best they can but it hardly works.
What difficulties have you faced (if any) in making the work? What positives have come from the project?
The biggest difficulty of this project was the emotional toll. I didn’t think about my mother’s attempts as much as I do now. This project caught me at my downs and amplified them, creating something that I found hard not to think about — anything else but what my mother was going through and what lead her to this.
The positives is that I get to see more into my mum’s life as this is something that I have known about but not had a reason to start a conversation with her about what she has done in the past. Me and my mum are close as we have chats about things that she feels she can’t talk to anyone else about and it’s nice to be able to do this with her as it allows her to get some of her concerns of her chest at the time.
Has your mother seen the work? How did she react?
Yes, my mum has seen the work. She is an important part in the conveying the truth and what it’s like. I show her everything I shoot and everything I do with the work. Her reaction differs from what I’ve shown her most of the time she’s says that her place looks a mess and has a little chuckle or gasp. But I feel that she feels the same way about this project as I do. People need to know so they can understand better…
What are you working on now/next?
For me Bacon from Cows isn’t finished so I will be continuing this body of work, as there is a lot of this project I am yet to explore and expand upon. But while in Lisbon I am going to continue to document the everyday life of the people that live in Lisbon.