A place of refuge, Lydia Goldblatt’s new series is a gentle contemplation on loss and uncertainty

Unequivocally relevant, Fugue is an empathetic lockdown project that lenses themes of family and motherhood.

6 January 2021

“Photographing felt liberating and intuitive,” says Lydia Goldblatt of the moment she first picked up a camera. It was while visiting her father’s birthplace with her family that she initially laid her hands on one, before being completely taken aback by the medium’s immediacy in documenting “things newly seen, even if the picture itself turned out to be rubbish.”

At the time, the now-London-based photographer was studying languages at university, thinking that she’d later pursue a career in journalism. Writing was a “hard-won and extremely slow’ and “torturous affair” though and so she shortly steered away from that goal. It’s no wonder she, therefore, jumped to the device of a camera for its fast-paced ability to capture the world around her. “I didn’t know it then,” she says, returning back to the trip made with her family, “but using a camera almost for the first time (even though taking pictures was a mess) was a kind of precursor to the work that I make now – looking at origins and transitional experience.”

Still remaining an advocate for the immediacy of the photograph, Lydia’s process now gravitates more around the idea of thought – achieved through the act of making, research, reflection and analysis. “And usually,” she continues, “the actual photograph is the final outcome of a much longer process.” This can be seen within the subjects that Lydia likes to lens which, like her ethos, navigate around the notion of time. Her subjects, in this sense, include that of “origins, states of transition, flux, love and time,” as well as elements of experiences, “rites of passage” plus the more emotional and psychological lineage between life’s existence. “These kinds of fundamental human experiences can act as a catalyst for change, and therefore creation. And that is something I have drawn on in my work.”


Lydia Goldblatt: Fugue (Copyright © Lydia Goldblatt, 2020)

Lydia’s work flits between the conceptual, documentary and constructed with great ease. Much of which explores themes of personal history and relationships, whereby family becomes a recurring and “ever more important” theme. With an ethos that succumbs to the telling of intimate stories, it’s unsurprising that Lydia was awarded second place in last year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize – noted for her image Eden from her series Fugue, a project depicting motherhood, intimacy and distance.

These particular motives are reflected in the types of references that she archives, like that of Robert Adams’ Summer Nights, which addresses the unease that we’ve felt in our neighbourhoods. She also cites photographer Megan Wynne’s work on the maternal, Colin Pantall’s All Quiet on the Home Front – a series on the experiences of fatherhood – Jason Fulford, Tierney Gearon’s The Mother Project and Alessandra Sanguinetti’s The Adventures of Guille and Belinda. All of which have been highly influential in her recent practice. Not to mention the paintings of Josef Herman, a post-war Jewish refugee artist who creates figures with “emotional complexity” that Lydia is particularly fond of.

Fugue, Lydia’s most recent series, encompasses all that the photographer stands for. Supported by a commission from Grain Projects and currently on view digitally at the National Portrait Gallery, the project first began a week before the national lockdown started as she scattered her mother’s ashes. “These pictures begin Fugue, prefacing a body of work in which mothering runs as a central theme,” she says. Additionally, before her children were born, Lydia had an array of projects on the go, including Instar (2016) – a project exploring transitional states and creativity – and Still Here (2012) – about her parents’ ageing and her father’s death. Within the three years of her children being born, though, there was an intermittent halt in her practice.

But this year changed everything. As the world experienced a profound shift, our daily lives were bound within four walls. Meanwhile, “each small world [became] something bigger – a bit like the immersion of new motherhood,” says Lydia, stating how this moment of reflection is what fuelled the creation of Fugue. Primarily a documentation of this present time, Lydia began drawing a radius of 50 metres and decided to feature just four people and a handful of streets. She counts herself lucky to have been able to work on this project: “My home and my camera have both offered places of refuge and safety. The uncertainty and anxiety of Covid-19, the staggering loss it has brought, are set against the personal grief of losing my mother, coming to terms with being a mother myself, and the struggle to understand what that means.”

Within Fugue, Lydia touches base on the many things that we’ve all grown to miss – be it the physical touch of another, the freedom to travel or go about daily activities. But rather than depicting these things in a negative space, her photographs serve as a gentle extraction. “The perfect spring blossoms, the windows and the empty playgrounds articulate a psychological suspension in which both joy and fear oscillate,” Lydia concludes. “Photography’s ability to hold what is significant – darkness and light, void and presence – weaves kingship through the enforced distance.”

GalleryLydia Goldblatt: Fugue (Copyright © Lydia Goldblatt, 2020)



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Lydia Goldblatt: Fugue (Copyright © Lydia Goldblatt, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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