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The big picture: a reflection of family life | Photography

The big picture: a reflection of family life |  Photography

Matthew Finn reckons that, all in all, he took about 100,000 photographs of his Uncle Des. He began in 1987, when he was 16 and December was 58. And he finished in 2014, when his uncle died. This image was taken, like nearly all of Finn’s pictures, at home in Leeds, in 1991.

“To give you a bit of context about the family,” Finn told me last week, “my mother was never married, and on my father’s death, when I was 21 years old, I found out that he had been married to five other women in Leeds. At the funeral, I was introduced to all these half-brothers and sisters. My uncle never got married either. He and my mother lived together as brother and sister for nearly 80 years. The photography meant I could be with them without asking awkward questions.” (Finn has “probably half a million” images of his mother, Jean, 60 of which were published in a widely acclaimed book in 2017.)

His uncle helped him to buy cameras and convert the garage into a dark room, but neither Des nor Jean showed much interest in the pictures themselves. “They didn’t ask,” Finn says. “And I tended to shy away from showing them. A few times I did, after lunch on Christmas Day, when they’d had a few drinks and we would have a laugh.” This picture is included in a group exhibition at the Foundling Museum in central London dedicated to ideas of family. Characteristically, Finn used reflection to explore the relationship between him and his subject. “Partly,” he says, “I was interested in cubism, but also I think it is about distance – this wasn’t my biological father, but he did everything you’d expect from a father.”

The last picture he took of his uncle was 15 minutes after Des died. “I had to, really,” Finn says. “Though it was six months before I could develop it and another six months before I showed it to anyone.”

Finding Family is at the Foundling Museum, London WC1 to 27 August