In February  2016, my wife Denise and I were  told that if the baby we were expecting survived until birth she would suffer  horrendous pain and then die. Abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland and  Denise was forced to carry the dying foetus to term.

'It Starts With Silence'  is the reality of  state-sanctioned violence,  forced birth, baby loss, and denial of access to abortion. My question as an artist was, “How do I make photographic work addressing all of the complexities of our situation?”

I began making images about nine months afterour baby had been born dead. It was difficult, as I could find nothing in my life from which I could derive joy. I did not care about anything and how doyou make photos when you feelnothing but despair? Nothing mattered except trying to keep Denise fromgoing over the edge. We were both mentally unstable and our relationship wassuffering. I was empty and Denise was broken.

I had no idea what pictures to make but I knewthat I needed to start something. I began in the solitude of nature, which hasbeen a constant source of comfortin my life. I sought out places where I could avoid people and took a camerawith me, shooting intuitively while trying to figure out how to cope.

We had been living in England, where we met butDenise was desperate to return to Northern Ireland, and I understood herlonging. Northern Ireland has an abundance of natural beauty, and in manypeople who live here, there is a depth of character and appreciation forthe suffering of others. It is a particular warmth, which is familiar amongpeople who have lived in highly politicised environments. However, whenour tragedy happened, I wanted to hate this place. The landscape, whichpreviously provided me with comfort, was now the object of my hatred. Where Ionce saw beauty, I now saw oppression, cruelty, pain. The curtain had beenlifted.

There is no spectacle in these photographs butthey are images, which invite you to come with me into my headspace, into myworld. I set myself the task of trying to illustrate how I was feeling, withphotography as my voice. I needed to capture this absence, the kind of absence,which arrives during intense grief and the loss of something so fragile andprecious but that was never meant to be.

Our daughter was a person whom we loved but would never know. My onlymemories of her are of pain and sorrow, and any physical trace of her isdisappearing with time.   I wanted to visualise that feeling ofdesolate isolation that Denise and I were both experiencing and the initialimages reflected these emotions.

There were many aspects that I needed to unpackbut I needed to represent visually the issues, which forced us to this point. Ineeded to show how the system had failed Denise and me. I needed to reconcilethat, which wasdifficult, and it still is. I accepted that our baby was doomed the moment Iunderstood the gravity of her condition, but I cannot comprehend the level ofpure evil that aims totorture another sentient being by forcing them to endure the trauma of givingbirth to a dead baby’s corpse.

In certain images, I am probingideas, which are created to control us: social constructs, used forconditioning and indoctrination, to maintain a level of subservience, embeddedinto our psyche and becoming apparent when we search for them; ideas ingrainedin our subconscious from childhood and employed to manipulate the way we thinkabout things. Sometimes religiousitems are deliberately left for us to find while walking, while othersappear by chance, alluding to ideas and concepts in which I do not believe.

I needed to reflect upon the harshness of thecruel and archaic laws,which forced us further into a tragedy than we was necessary, the patriarchal system that seeks to punish women and Ibecame more focused.

This was always going to be a work of activismbut not in the most direct or perhaps expected form. Denise contactedpro-choice groups, with whom we marched – I was never going to make artwork atthese events because, for me, they were a collective act of defiance againstoppression, and I knew my artwork needed to be morenuanced and personal. Also, Denise and I were affected emotionallyduring the rallies, as we both found the events intense.

This artwork is personal, it is informed by activism and conversationsconducted in small rooms behind closed doors. Denise and I engaged in manyconversations in a range ofenvironments. For example, we campaigned with Amnesty International,lobbying politicians at Westminster, and we took a handmade book, whichcontained photos from the hospital. Very few people have seen the images in our"family album". We showed the politicians our story and showed themhow difficult it was to make a decision even before we understood how the lawwould stop us from making an informed and rational choice.

During these conversations, it was clear theeffect that personal accounts can have on the public and on decision-makers, and howimportant they are for helping to implement change. I decided that this workwould be made with the same sentiment and the advantage with that approach is that thepatriarchy does not like it. A patriarchal system dictates that sensitivity isto be avoided. So how else can we undermine and subvert the patriarchy? Personally,I think come at them from as many directions as possible: take to the streets,hold rallies and be visible in numbers, write to politicians to vent yourfrustration, speak with your family and peers, and educate the public. Do all the thingsthat are expected and then question the policymakers, make them defend theirposition, face-to-face. Look into their eyes, tell them the truth, and makethem defend the indefensible. Show them the cruelty they inflict, and thefutility of it. Make them see that you know there is no legitimate reason toforce someone to endure a situation like this, and to have their livesshattered.

The moment our dead baby was born, in thatsilence, in that instant, I understood that I had never really known thecruelty of a system, which punishes women for being women. I witnessed it and Iwas horrified at what I saw. I was devastated by my loss but none of thatcompared to the sustained violence that had been inflicted on Denise and it wasunbearable to witness. In the dark silent hours that passed as Denise laycradling our dead baby, drifting in and out of consciousness, I moved closer,as close as I have ever been to understanding the cruelty that women are forcedto experience in our sexist world.

The patriarchy will try to defend its position,perhaps quote the Bible or blame promiscuity, the sexual revolution, and sinfullives, turning out phrases, which blame women for crisis pregnancies. They willtell us that "both lives matter", and failing those tactics they willrevert to a favourite trope in patriarchal propaganda: emotions are feminine,and femininity is weakness. Well, here isthe power, and it's no secret to activists, who know that the truth hurts, iseffective, is powerful – the truth effects change.

A series of essays was published in 'TheNew York Review', written in response to the Supreme Court in the US, andthe concern that they would overturn Roe v Wade. Anne Enright commentedabout the vote to repeal the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution, whichmade abortion illegal:

"Ireland's abortion ban was always afailure—medically and practically. All it did was make people's lives moredifficult and more dangerous. The shift in public opinion that led to itsrepeal did not happen as a result of argument, whether legal, moral, orreligious. It happened because anonymity was broken. Savita Halappanavar's namewas known, her photograph was on the news, and then on placards—may she rest inpeace. After some time, living women put their names to stories about abortion,and a powerful taboo was broken. More than three-quarters of voters in 2018said that they had been influenced by personal stories they had heard in themedia or from people they knew."

The vote to repeal the eighth amendment, in theRepublic of Ireland, provided further impetus for campaigners in NorthernIreland, where the laws prohibiting abortion remained some of the mostdraconian in the world. Once more, Northern Ireland was being leftbehind. 

During our activism, I recognised the power ofpersonal stories. I saw it in people's faces, the way they held themselves,their covered mouths, and the look in their eyes. I understood how stories,although difficult to hear and tell, can lead to a shift in perception andencourage more empathy toward ideas, which many may not have considered indepth. I know that these conversations lead to change. This body of work and the book were made with this in mind. I considerit a tender protest, a work of subversion. It is a deeply personal work,objectively more so for Denise, as there are few photos of me, and givenphotography's tendency toobjectify, I needed to redress the balance. I asked myself, “How can I ‘manup’ and share my vulnerability along with hers?” I wrote a prose poem for the book, asan offering from me to her, to all who feel they have no voice, suffocated byoppression, taboo, and stigma. ‘ItStarts With Silence’ is a showing of solidarity, of hope, of love. Andto Denise, who never asked for any of this but continues to be the drivingforce behind our activism, I'll borrow from Hannah Gadsby:

"There is nothing stronger than a brokenwoman who has rebuilt herself."

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