Lydia Goldblatt


Interview by Anneka French

Bones, skin, flowers, mirrors, golden light and heavy shadow are sensitively woven throughout Fugue, a new title by Lydia Goldblatt that explores her transition into motherhood while simultaneously carrying the loss of her own mother, she explains to Anneka French. Published by GOST, the book brings together tender photographs and fragments of text that touch upon this complex period within Goldblatt’s life. Her work, also part of a recent solo presentation with Robert Morat Galerie at Photo London 2024, was the toast of the fair.

Anneka French | Interview | 30 May 2024

Anneka French: Let’s start with the cover and the title. Can you tell me more about the musical notation and the word ‘fugue’?

Lydia Goldblatt: The cover is pink and the end papers red – I wanted it to be bodily – and it features the final bars of the last unfinished Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach who wrote The Art of Fugue, unfinished because he died. The image is taken from Bach’s original annotated manuscript in his handwriting. I like the notes floating untethered.

AF: The state of being unfinished is important to your work. Can you say more about the timeframe the book covers?

LG: Yes. Things exist in a continuum but it covers a four-year period around the becoming of, and the losing of, a mother. I wanted to make the book across those years because they are a significant marker of change and transition. When I started making the pictures, I didn’t know how long it would be until I stopped. I needed that length of time to draw out the themes and relationships, to allow it to grow and evolve.

AF: Did you always envisage a book? What were your thoughts at the start?

LG: To even start making is a massive hurdle. I didn’t make pictures for a good three or so years after having children. I did commissions but didn’t, and couldn’t, grapple with anything further. When I start making photographs, I don’t think about an outcome because otherwise I might not start at all. That said, once I began making and editing these, I was intuitively putting the pictures into book form. It felt like a narrative.

AF: The texts in the book exists in different formats and registers. In ‘Mother Tongue’, one part feels stern and directive while the other is more intimate and detailed. Could you tell me about these?

LG: ‘Mother Tongue’ is split into two voices, almost a call and response, but not quite. The first is the things that I might say to my children, the second is my internal voice. This text sits at the centre of the book because it’s about a very difficult emotion, rage, that is extremely hard to articulate but also fundamental to the experience encapsulated in the work. The rest of the texts are structured similarly to the photographs because the fragments don’t build a complete narrative. Instead, they allude to elements and go back and forth in time. Non-linear time is really integral to this work. A daily sense of time is underpinned with deeper time and the writing allows me to articulate emotions held in the pictures.

AF: Were the texts written intuitively?

LG: The texts and photographs were made separately. I made a lot of the photographs and then put them away in order to start the writing. I didn’t want to write to the photographs. I knew they were linked but I didn’t know how I’d edit it together. There were specific memories I wanted to explore in the writing but I just started and it wasn’t overly planned.

AF: ‘Fugue’ has quite different definitions in the worlds of music compared to psychiatry – harmony as opposed to disassociation.

LG: I think it has been a useful word. In domestic life, there are many interweaving strands with changes and repeats that build the idea and the feeling of family. I wanted to allude to these repeating strands to build a crescendo and a tune of some kind. It holds within it both intimacy and distance. Once the work became the object [the book], it became more claustrophobic and quite intense. The other element to the work is loss – a loss of memory and a loss of self, or a dissociative state. Grief and the transition to motherhood is captured in the word ‘fugue’ very simply. In Fugue, there’s a fleeing and a running towards – a push and pull.

AF: Yes. Photographs where children are balanced on the edge of furniture and hands reach out to wave or stretch. How do you approach photographing fast-moving children as opposed to a collection of objects that are, of course, still?

LG: With the moving children, there’s something playing itself out. The stacks of dishes by the sink or the Tupperware by the stairs are things that I walked past, thought about and then came back to, piles unconsciously created within the context of the house. There are other still lives that I set up to refer to a discussion or to set up symbolism. Further still, there are other objects that belong to my mother or grandparents – the little mirror and the scissors, and the broken statue which is both an object belonging to my family but also a symbolic setting up of a fracture. Another picture shows teeth which are mine and my sister’s. We found them in mum’s dressing table. They connect to fragility, preciousness and the macabre.

AF: It’s the cyclical nature of things happening, of things waiting to happen. Something common in early motherhood is a shrinking of the world down to your immediate surroundings. Fugue comes from your experiences but the pandemic is bound up in the timeline of the book too.

LG: Lockdown gave me the reason not to talk myself out of making the work. I didn’t really know I’d started making it. We scattered my mum’s ashes a few weeks before lockdown, and it was one of those days where you don’t get another chance. So I took my camera and kind of started things off. In lockdown, I experienced a clarifying of all the things that I’d been feeling. I had a reason not to put my camera down, knowing that this was a very particular phase, and motherhood and grief alike allowed me to explore those feelings. I could just let them go, let them run. This being said, the work is not just mine. It’s about me – it holds me and holds my children – but it can’t be of them because it’s me making the work. There’s a strange balance beyond and outside of me. The work has to hold other people’s experiences too, otherwise there’s just no point. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and GOST. © Lydia Goldblatt

Fugue is published by GOST.

Lydia Goldblatt is a British photographic artist based in London. Her work has been at the National Portrait Gallery, London, Somerset House, London, the National Museum, Gdańsk, Poland, the Felix Nussbaum Haus, Osnabrück, Germany, and the GoEun Museum of Photography, Busan, South Korea. Her first book,
Still Here (Hatje Cantz, 2013), is held in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum National Art Library, London, and her work is held in public and private collections including the National Portrait Gallery and The Women’s Library, London. Her work appears in publications including Guardian Saturday, Financial Times, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Magazines, New Statesman, The New Yorker, De Zeit and Wallpaper*. Goldblatt received the GRAIN Projects Artist Commission in 2020 to develop Fugue, and received an award for her portrait from the series in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize.

Anneka French is a Curator at Coventry Biennial and Project Editor for Anomie, an international publishing house for the arts. She contributes to Art QuarterlyBurlington Contemporary and Photomonitor, and has had written and editorial commissions from Turner Prize, Fire Station Artists’ Studios, TACO!, Grain Projects and Photoworks+. French served as Co-ordinator and then Director at New Art West Midlands, Editorial Manager at this is tomorrow and has worked at galleries including Tate Modern, London, and Ikon, Birmingham.


1- From the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

2- Bone, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

3- Windows, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

4- Eden in the Garden, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

5- Lick, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

6- From the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

7- Twist, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

8- Folds, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

9- From the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

10- Supernova, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

11- Pedestal II, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

12- Paper Bird, from the series Fugue © Lydia Goldblatt

1000 Words

City Guides

#4 Berlin

Galerie für Moderne Fotografie
Schröderstraße 13
10115, Berlin
+49 30 23 45 67 70

A decade ago, the Galerie für Moderne Fotografie in Berlin-Mitte was founded by Kirsten Landwehr. Specialising exclusively in the photographic medium, the gallery’s programme alternates between the exhibition of artists of international stature as well as showcasing newly discovered talents, for instance Karolin Klüppel, a former student of Bernhard Prinz. Ranging from the fashion photography of Roger Melis to the documentary style of Harald Hauswald, the gallery celebrates a variety of genres, modes and approaches. Exhibitions are regularly extended by presentations of work at the GFMF Salon; hosting talks, book presentations, and artist discussions at various locations in Berlin and abroad, the compelling event format provides endless opportunities to discuss and engage with photographic works.

Galerie Springer
Fasanenstraße 13
10623, Berlin
+49 30 31 57 22 0

Founded in Frankfurt in 1991 as Springer & Winckler Galerie, after seven years the space relocated to Berlin, into the legendary spaces of Rudolf Springer. Run by Heide and Robert Springer as Galerie Springer since 2012, the gallery’s programme champions classical as well as contemporary photography, with represented artists including Saul Leiter, Joel Meyerowitz, Edward Burtynsky, Ashkan Sahihi and Catherine Gfeller. As well as staging four to six exhibitions annually, and their participation in national and international art fairs, the activities of Galerie Springer are completed by support service for private and public collections.

Robert Morat Galerie
Linienstraße 107
10115, Berlin
+49 30 25 20 93 58

Robert Morat Galerie opened its doors in Hamburg in 2004. With a focus on contemporary photography, the gallery has built an international reputation as a place for discoveries. It represents prominent practitioners such as Christian Patterson, Ron Jude and Mårten Lange, and actively exhibits at international art fairs such as Paris Photo, Photo London and Unseen Amsterdam. In 2015, Robert Morat closed his Hamburg gallery, moving into a beautiful new space on Linienstraße in Berlin-Mitte. Since then, the gallery has exhibited shows such as Christian Patterson’s Bottom of the Lake (2015), Ron Jude’s Lago (2015) and Andre Grützner’s Erbgericht (2013–15), all of which attracted significant attention amongst the city’s photographic community, giving the respective artists substantial visibility.

C/O Berlin
Hardenbergstraße 22–24
10623, Berlin
+49 30 28 44 41 60

Originally founded as a private initiative in 2000 by photographer Stephan Erfurt, designer Marc Naroska and architect Ingo Pott, C/O Berlin quickly gained international recognition as an outstanding exhibition venue for photography. First established in the historical Postfuhramt building in Berlin-Mitte, C/O Berlin has now presented more than twenty solo and group exhibitions of internationally distinguished photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Martin Parr, Nan Goldin, Anton Corbijn, Sebastião Salgado, Peter Lindbergh, René Burri and Stephen Shore in 2500 m2 of the light-flooded space at Amerika Haus in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Through its educational programme, workshops and panel discussions, the organisation also offers numerous opportunities to engage intensively with the photographic medium. Since 2006, C/O Berlin has been supporting young photographers and art critics through their annual international C/O Berlin Talent Award.

Kehrer Galerie
Potsdamer Straße 100
10785, Berlin
+49 30 68 81 69 49

Klaus Kehrer, founder of the renowned photo book publisher of the same name, opened a new gallery space in 2014. Located in Berlin-Tiergarten, the gallery exhibits a breadth of artists all working within a range of photographic genres. Steffi Klenz, Eva Leitolf, Aapo Huhta, Gregor Sailer, Danila Tkachenko and Thibault Brunet are some of the names to grace its international roster. With the exhibition programme closely tied with the publishing house, the gallery regularly hosts book discussions to introduce newly-released publications. By providing the city’s photographic community with invaluable insights into the artists’ works and approaches, Kehrer Galerie thereby invites and stimulates fruitful conversations around the photographic medium more generally.

Julia Schiller

Image: View of the exhibition Mårten Lange: Recent Work at Robert Morat Galerie, 2017. Photo: Mårten Lange. Courtesy: Robert Morat Galerie