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Not So Sweet Seventeen

Curator John Kemp explains the message behind his powerful, new exhibition, 17

Written by . Published on December 5th 2011.

Not So Sweet Seventeen

FROM 7 – 11 December, Southbank’s OXO Tower will host the 17 Exhibition – a collection of seventeen photographs of women who have all lost babies to still births or death in early infancy. Curator John Kemp tells us about the powerful message he hopes it will bring.

I think different people will take different things from it, but the bigger question, which I hope people will be asking, is what can we do to prevent this happening?

When did the idea arise to create the 17 Exhibition?
It was about four years ago, about a year after my wife and I lost our own baby. I wanted to get people talking about stillbirths because I felt the problem was overlooked. I wanted to tell mothers’ stories through photography and I wanted to articulate what had happened to us in a visual way and it went from there.

How did people react to your idea?
Some people found it too emotional to take part and look back on what had happened to them while others were very keen. Over the space of a year I received responses from 50 families who all sent their photos and stories of what had happened to them. I was overwhelmed by the response and how much these women wanted to share their stories.



How did you choose the final 17?
It was a very difficult process. I wanted to show a range of ages of mothers and also for them to be moving and emotional.


What do the photos show?
They all capture a sense of joy and expectation that comes with the innocence of pregnancy. Many of them are serene and are just very beautiful moments. They will all be presented with the names, gestation or ages and weight of the baby. And they will include a quote from the mother about their story.

What do you hope the response will be?
I’m wide open to feedback but I want to give a small glimpse of the emotion that’s involved and what it means to the parents to lose a baby. I think different people will take different things from it, but the bigger question, which I hope people will be asking, is what can we do to prevent this happening?

What has the experience been like?
At first I didn’t realise just how difficult it would be to read these women’s stories.

How do you feel now the process is over and the exhibition has arrived?
This was something I needed to do and I wanted to raise awareness of Sands – who support bereaved parents who have been affected by neonatal deaths. It’s been a big challenge to deliver seventeen women’s different stories but I am glad that I’ve documented what’s going on. Ask me in a few months time when this is all over and hopefully it will have made a difference.

17 Exhibtion is on from 11am – 6pm at Southbank
For details of the Sands charity go to www.uk-sands.org

Follow on Twitter: @17exhibition
Follow on Facebook: www.facebook.com/17exhibition 

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