Which way is north?

Words and images by Aletheia Casey

By & September 6, 2021The Collective

This series, Which way is north?, came about after I had my son 6 years ago. I felt displaced after becoming a mother and really questioned my identity and my role in life. Photography for me in those early days of motherhood became an excuse to be alone for an hour or two, and to find a part of myself that seemed to have disappeared after childbirth. The experience made my connection to my own mother stronger and deeper, and led me to wonder who she had been before having children. This work casts my mother as the protagonist in my own story, reflecting her huge significance and influence over my life in general.

My mother has always been at the heart of everything I have done, yet I had never taken a photograph of her that I felt truly reflected who she was to me. And so I began to photograph her, obsessively in a way, trying to capture the ‘her’ that I felt so keenly. I wanted to figure out who she was, and who she had been before me and my brother and sister were born. My family is extremely close and in some ways, as with most families, each one of us has helped to mould and shape the other. Gradually this series began to evolve to include other members of my family, and to explore all of those people who I am bound to through my bloodline. For me photography is always deeply personal, and being able to photograph what is important to me is one of the things that I love most about the medium. My family is the most important part of my life — they are my history, my blood, and they have influenced and helped form my identity.

Because I’ve spent a large part of my life living away from Australia, I watch my family from a distance as they grow and change, which makes my yearning to capture their physical presence even stronger when I am with them, which now, due to the pandemic, is rare. My images of my family express my deep longing to be connected to them, my yearning to be anchored to a place, to have a permanent home and to be connected to the people who I feel I belong to. Many of my images are about being tethered to a place and looking for my roots. The strange thing about having chosen to live away from Australia is that it only makes my connection to the place – both the landscape, and culture – stronger.  The work is my way of continually searching for home.

The wild beauty of the Australian landscape is something that for me can only be fully appreciated when I’m standing in its midst, at dusk, with birds screaming above, the wind tearing through the trees, and the waves pounding on the shore. The ferociousness of the climate feels unique. The wild nature of the place is what I aim to capture in my landscapes, which I pair with portraits of my family. It’s almost like the two are interchangeable; the people I love, and the land that I love. This work explores what that landscape means to me – that is, how a physical place forms and influences who we believe we are. When I managed to return home for a 6 week holiday in February this year, having been away for 2 years due to the pandemic, I was surprised to notice the overwhelming screams of the birds, and how they became a background symphony to daily life. I hadn’t realised how much I missed this sound until I heard it again – I hadn’t realised how much a part of my understanding of ‘home’ these sounds are. The birds, the light, the insects, the space, the humid air, the changeable and dramatic weather, all of these things form a kind of net, which wraps me up and holds me to the country and to my family. My past, my present and my future are all wrapped up in the place and the people of my home.

Aletheia Casey

Aletheia Casey

Aletheia Casey is an Australian photographic artist currently living in London, England. She has been published in and worked with The Guardian, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, BBC London and BBC World, Australian Associated Press and numerous other international publications. Aletheia has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (Australia), Museum Bélvédère (Heerenveen, Holland), Photofusion (London), The Perth Centre for Photography (Australia), The National Geographic Society (London),  Foto8 (London), Le Mois De La Photo in Grenoble, France, and will be exhibiting at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in 2021. She was named as one of '31 photographers to watch' by the British Journal of Photography and was shortlisted for the PHMuseum Woman Photographer's Grant in 2018. In the same year Aletheia won the Judge's Commendation for the Iris Award at the Perth Centre for Photography and was a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Award. In 2015 she was named a winner of The Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Emerging Photographer Award for the UK, and has twice been a finalist for the National Photographic Portrait Prize. Aletheia is a founding member of Australian photographer’s collective Lumina. She completed her Masters of Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in 2016 through the London College of Communication and graduated with distinction. She is a photography lecturer on the Masters degrees at The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, and London College of Communication.