Four contemporary photographers explored issues of motherhood and loss in an exhibition curated by Susan Bright.

Home Truths presented a series of meditations on maternal relationships that were highly personal, often documentary and that challenged the familiar stereotypes associated with images of motherhood. Curator Susan Bright selected work by artists Ann Fessler (b. 1950, USA), Tierney Gearon (b. 1963, USA), Miyako Ishiuchi (b. 1947, Japan) and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (b. 1964, UK) that encompassed film, digital collage, still life, reportage and vernacular photography. Set within the context of the Foundling Museum, these works were at once haunting and engaging.

Shot with a collage of recent video and archival footage of the farms and rivers of the rural Midwest, Fessler’s Along the Pale Blue River is an autobiographical tale about a young pregnant girl who flees her rural community for a town where she can be invisible, and the daughter who returns forty years later. Through a yearbook picture, Fessler discovers the source of the river from her childhood town and realises it has always flowed from her mother to her.

Gearon came to public attention in the UK when her photographs of her children were exhibited as part of I Am A Camera at the Saatchi Gallery in 2001. With The Mother Project she shifts her attention to her elderly mother who is both bipolar and schizophrenic. The project, which took eight years to complete, looks at complex familial relationships and raises issues around ageing, mental health and the role of photography, which is used here as a tool to try and connect and establish a relationship that has been lost (or was never there).

In her Mother’s series Ishiuchi, one of Japan’s foremost female photographers, shows the objects that she started to photograph after her mother’s unexpected death. The objects are delicate and often threadbare and are all treated as an extension of her mother’s body. The feeling of loss and melancholy reverberates around the pieces as they act as a material trace of the mother that once was.

For her ongoing series Re-generation, Palakunnathu Matthew animates vernacular photographs of her family and friends to show how the dynamic of the family changes over time, as people die and children are born. Without a specific ancestral narrative, the viewer is left to guess at the histories, relationships and dramas revealed by the familiar poses.

Home Truths was a collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery, London. The exhibition was shown across the two sites, with artists at The Photographers’ Gallery considering motherhood and identity. Artists showing work at the Gallery were Janine Antoni (b. 1964, Bahamas), Elina Brotherus (b. 1972, Finland), Elinor Carucci (b. 1971, Israel), Ana Casas Broda (b. 1965, Spain), Fred Hüning (b. 1966, Germany), Leigh Ledare (b. 1976, USA), Katie Murray (b.1974, USA), and Hanna Putz (b. 1987, Austria).

The exhibition was accompanied by a major publication co-published by The Photographers’ Gallery, Art / Books, The Foundling Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago.

Home Truths was supported by the Home Truths Supporters’ Circle and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

★ ★ ★ ★ Reveals surprising, stirring and provocative angles on relationships between mothers and their children
Sue Steward, Evening Standard
Arresting, often melancholic meditations on the maternal
Sean O'Hagan, Observer
This isn't a collection of mums cradling babies and bumps; it's about the raw, sometimes ill-fated urge for motherhood
Lucy Davies, British Journal of Photography

Interview with curator Susan Bright