The Whitechapel Woman (2017) Giclee on Hahnemuhle Pearl Paper in eds: medium 60 x 80cm (25); large 90 x 120cm (15); XL 120 x 160cm (10), XXL 150 x 190cm (7). All +2AP. Affordable Small Limited Eds on POD Satin Paper also available. Buy Art Now
“For the first time... I had been refused when offering chloroform... later I asked her why... shyly she turned to me and said: ‘It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t meant to, was it, doctor?’"
A chance phrase by a woman in a hovel in Whitechapel in 1911, that childbirth wasn’t meant to be painful, led the young Dr Grantly Dick-Read to explore that in the absence of fear, the body's natural endorphins can replace the stress hormones that cause pain in childbirth. He went on to write the most influential book on childbirth of the last century, 'Childbirth Without Fear' in 1942, with the passage describing the encounter becoming famously enshrined in birth philosophy.
“The window was broken, rain pouring in, the bed had no proper covering… the room was lit by one candle stuck in the top of a beer bottle on the mantelshelf, my patient covered in sacks… a neighbour had brought in a jug of water and a basin”. Dick-Read’s cinematic account for the first time is here visualised, re-enacted at Dennis Severs’ House, a ‘living museum’ of Victorian London. With inspiration from the composition of painting ‘The Doctor’ (1890) by Sir Luke Fildes, and other references, the Whitechapel woman is brought back to life - she whose humble influence unknowingly catalysed a doctor’s insistence of listening to women at their bedside - and that our modern culture of increasingly machine-reliant, birth depersonalisation may learn again from.
“It is as great a crime to leave a woman alone in her agony and deny her relief from her suffering, as it is to insist upon dulling the consciousness of a natural mother who desires above all things to be aware of the final reward of her efforts, whose ambition is to be present, in full possession of her senses, when the infant she already adores greets her with its first loud cry and the soft touch of its restless body upon her limbs.” ― Grantly Dick-Read
Photographer & director: Natalie Lennard / Models: Elena Sirina, Sam Bebbington / Stylist: Claudia Walder / HMUA: Morgan Defre / Prosthetics: Davy Jones / BTS Camera & Editing: Beyond Content