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Gwen - "Did I Want To Be Here"

Ian’s portrait of Gwen (his mother-in-law) is an intimate study on the effects of dementia on a once strong, sharp woman, where softening memories have started to disintegrate, often hidden in layers within layers, where time is becoming increasingly meaningless and fragmented.

Faded, fragmented memories and mixed up ragged timelines are typical of someone with dementia.

“Did I Want To Be Here?” were the last coherent words that Gwen uttered to Ian as he helped her from the car to his house. “Where am I?” asked Gwen. “You’re at Gail and Ian’s for lunch Gwen” he replied. “Did I want to be here” asked Gwen.

Below – The original
Gwen – “Did I Want To Be Here”​ is a 5’6” (1.7 m) tall gum birchromate print.

This is Gwen – “Did I Want To Be Here”​ version 2.

While working on my Masters degree in fine art at Cambridge School of Art, I decided to experiment further with a slightly different photo of Gwen, just to see where else I could take the project.

“I chose to print the cyanotype’s (blue images) of Gwen on Japanese paper for its unique qualities. When you look at and touch this paper you immediately notice it’s fine, soft, wrinkled, aged skin like quality, it is strong to touch and feel and looks as if it is engrained with worries past and present, when it is hung up to dry the paper becomes fragile, translucent, ragged and disintegrates under its own weight, like Gwen is crumbling under the pressure and fragmentation of her own identity”.

Gwen did I want to be here cyantype prints art dementia

Technical information for the 16 panel full colour image above;

Gwen’s portrait was originally taken on a digital camera then interpolated in photoshop from 18” to 5’6” (45.5cm to 167.5cm) and cropped into 16 individual A3 segments; each segment was then converted to Cyan, Magenta and Yellow separation negatives and printed onto OHP Transparency sheets in preparation for the final gum prints. Three negatives were needed to print each of the 16 A3 segments. Overall a total of 48 negatives were used to print this large 5’6” tri-colour gum print of Gwen.

The print was a true labour of love and took seven months to make, with only one two week break during the whole of the seven months.

What others have said.

Pierre Zeler – One rare master piece !

John Higginson – You see things sometimes that literally change the way you see, how you feel, they reframe the world. This is one of those times. From the reasoning to the final execution this image is as breathtaking as it is moving. Thank you for sharing.

Diana H Bloomfield – Seriously Amazing – This is wonderful, Ian. Both conceptually and the printing. Amazing feat, really!

Brent Mathison – This piece is absolutely stunning. And the story behind it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

Mark Thompson writer / author
One of the most powerful and yet beautiful photography pieces I have ever seen… Stunning, and breathtaking, despite the sadness and loss of this beautiful lady – an image I shall never forget…. ❤️

Incredible photo of Gwen – it’s at times like this I wish I could travel back in time to meet the subject of a photograph or painting or someone written about…. Wonderful photograph and such a fabulous and fascinating exhibition .

Christine Fitzgerald – Brilliant piece

Amanda Knight – Incredible, what a wonderful piece! Such a powerful message!

Alice Wood – Such a touching photograph. Everyone who has had a family member touched by Alzheimer’s will recognise this heartbreaking phrase. Well done, darling Ian

Jane Foster – Such layers and expertise that show and convey her inner world – great picture wonderful you

Ya Ya Teahouse – This is an incredible print, Ian. I can‘t even fathom how much work this must have been. And to do it all in gum is just mind-blowing.

I wish I could see it in person.

Sally North – Ian, this is an amazing print, to do this in gum Bichromate and to have each section so similar in tone and colour is truly gobsmacking!!

My hat is off to you, and I would love to see it in person.

I feel for you and the beautiful Gwen with your back story, it is a sad story. Thank you for sharing that private moment, it gives this image some heartfelt meaning to everyone that will look upon it.

Alan Glover – Wow, Ian I remember commenting initially to express my awe at this gum print/labour of love and am so pleased to hear it is going on show in Bristol. Definitely a date to put in the diary, and the rest of the exhibition sounds really interesting too. I look forward to seeing it up close, and your background of Gwen is very poignant and your experience familiar to me.

Debajan Das Gupta – What a piece !! Anything between 48 – 64 impressions / layers if not more! Speaks volumes about your dedication and meticulousness leaving aside the fact that it is a wonderful portrait – full of character !! Thank you for sharing

Andrew Sanderson – What a huge undertaking! Impressive!

Pictorial Light – Brilliant image! The image and title are well matched! Thank you for sharing such a powerful image and story.

Review – The Lancashire Times
Perhaps the most dominant image of the whole exhibition is Ian Phillips McLaren’s ‘Gwen’., his Mother in Law. It is the largest single piece in the exhibition.

Through what looks like the panes of a window, we view the face of an elderly lady. For McLaren, it was a labour of love, taking over seven months to complete and involving many photographic techniques and overlays.
A face behind a window: is it suggesting the isolation felt by Alzheimers sufferers? Or, as I first thought, a face asking you to join her inside? Whatever was in the artist’s mind, it is an imposing work.

If the keynote for ‘Gwen’ is dignity, then David George’s is charm.

It may not sound promising, but his photographs, depicting the industrial decline of Teesside, reveal an unexpected beauty in a decaying heritage. In addition, the decision to put George’s images in a gallery with Scarborough Art Gallery’s collection of Atkinson Grimshaw’s was an inspired one. Grimshaw’s ability to extract the sublime from unlikely subject matter complements George’s vision of the decline of an industrial powerhouse. Further, and I must admit this had to be pointed out to me, one shot of a tranquil river scene has a Barratt house sitting on top of a river bank.

Dorcas Taylor, curator at Scarborough Museums and Galleries. “This exhibition is a rare opportunity to see the very best in contemporary photography.

“We hope it will inspire visitors, students and photographers to delve more deeply into this creative medium and its history.

“As photography is one of the most accessible ways to express ourselves and explore the world around us, this exhibition poses questions about the power of photography and how historic processes can be brought to life to reflect the world back at us today.”

Lizzie brown – What an amazing piece of work! I am really looking forward to seeing it in the exhibition.

Katalin Peto – This work is amazing!