Celine Marchbank

Lives and works in London (UK)






Tulip. My mother’s favourite flower


This story started on the 30th September 2009, the day my mum was diagnosed with cancer. It was Stage 4 lung cancer, with a secondary tumour in her brain, the worst it could be. Following a succession of emotionally and physically debilitating treatments over a twelve-month period, it was clear that nothing was working. It was too late. By April 2010 they had confirmed it was terminal.


Ever since my Mum was diagnosed I tried to take pictures, not only of her, but also the things that reminded me of her, the things that would also be gone when she was. The decision to make it a photography project was tough. I remember thinking it wasn’t the right thing to do, that I would be exploiting her pain. I was finding it hard enough to come to terms with the diagnosis myself, so wouldn’t pointing a camera around only make things more difficult? I started by documenting her actual medical treatments, I now think that was the easy part. When the diagnosis became terminal and the photography became focused solely on my Mum, at home, in bed, that was when it became really difficult. After all, I was her daughter, not her photographer.


This was obviously a extremely painful time for me, but I always felt it was important to record it in some way. I’m a documentary photographer after all and so, more than ever, I felt the need to record everything, like some kind of magpie, collecting thoughts and moments rather than shiny things.


I didn’t want this project to become a graphic portrayal of her death. My mother was an amazing woman, and it would have been impossible, and wrong, to focus only on the dying part. I wanted to look at the things that made her uniquely her. Her love of flowers was a beautiful part of her personality. The house was always full of them, and I realised as I photographed them, that they were symbolic of what was happening – they represent- ed happiness, love, kindness and generosity, but also isolation, decay, and finally death. Her house was so indi- vidual, just like her. She had distinctive tastes, slightly childlike, loving anything bright and cheerful, especially stripes. I needed to document it all. This project became not just about her, but about her home, our life there, and of course, her beloved cats.


I discovered that this project was no longer just about my Mum, it was my journey through this very difficult and painful part of my life. I continued to take photos after her death, trying to come to terms with the overpow- ering emotion of grief. Grief is like a grey cloud above your head, sometimes just a nagging doubt at the back of your mind, other times a huge storm cloud filling your whole mind. I often wonder what the reason for grief is, but maybe it’s a good thing. As long as I feel this grey cloud then, in a way, I always feel her presence.


Tulip this year has been published into a limited edition book by Dewi Lewis Publishing. The project has received widespread acclaim and has been featured in a range of newspapers, magazines and photographic websites.