“The camera became an extension of my arm”: Alice Dempsey documents daily life for her family

The Bath-based photographer’s matriarchal surroundings were put under the lens during a unique and transformative time.

Date
13 February 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

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Photographer Alice Dempsey has had a camera in her hand for as long as she can remember. Having grown up taking pictures of her family, it seems only fitting that her most recent project has returned to the same subject to examine the strong women within it.

“My mum gave me her Olympus Trip camera when I was three years old and I used to carry it around with me,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I took my first photo of my mum by a kitchen sink when I was three in our home in rural north Yorkshire.”

Her series Good Night God Bless looks into her matriarchal family, which since her grandfather’s passing had not had a male born into the family for four generations. That was until her cousin recently gave birth to a baby boy: “After having lost so many men, and having so many negative encounters with men, here was my very own boy to introduce into the world. I could almost feel the men of my past nodding and smiling down on me,” says Alice’s cousin Jessica.

Having considered the project for a while, this exciting new addition to the family was confirmation for Alice that it was something worth documenting. “The photos focus on the women in my family who have raised me, these strong matriarchal women who have been the glue in my family for many years and continue to be so,” she says.

The project also touches on the subject of religion, which is something that Alice’s grandmother feels strongly about as the head of the family. “Religion has become a bigger presence in our lives since the death of our Grandpa,” Alice says. “Our grandmother feels it is her duty to save our souls, she takes comfort in her religion, and thoroughly believes she will be reunited with the men who have passed.”

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Alice Dempsey: Good Night God Bless

The photographs themselves are extremely tender and filled with emotion. It also seems that the unique moments that have been documented would have likely been difficult to capture without such a close relationship to the subjects. This closeness to the subjects make some even look staged at first glance, however, this was not the case, with Alice adamant that she wanted to keep things as natural as possible.

“I guess when it came to the aesthetic I wanted to keep the images as real as I could, all photos were taken using no flash or lighting,” she says. “None of the photos were set up. I would wait for moments to happen – the camera became an extension of my arm.”

People are nearly always at the centre of Alice’s work, which was something that she gravitated towards as early as 11 when she got her first DSLR. “I just felt an innate compulsion to document what was around me, whether it be my friends, family or experiences, photography allowed me to do that,” she recalls.

She doesn’t feel that human stories like this should be a one-way street though: “I mainly photograph people and their stories, but when I’m photographing people I think it’s really important to collaborate with your subjects, to make them feel as much a part of the process as I do,” she says. “Even if this is talking and explaining your work and connecting with the subject on a more personal level.”

Ultimately it is something that Alice fundamentally enjoys, considering it a unique position to be in that she can distil people’s stories into an image. “I would say my work in general often explores relationships and narratives whether that be with me, each other or their own stories,” she explains. “I genuinely have a great interest in people and hearing their stories, and love being able to tell those stories in my photographs.”

GalleryAlice Dempsey: Good Night God Bless

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Alice Dempsey: Good Night God Bless

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About the Author

Charlie Filmer-Court

Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.

cfc@itsnicethat.com

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