I can remember the moment when my wife Tina came bouncing into the room to tell me about the 100 in Hamble. It was a simple idea and immediately engaging – take a picture of 100 women, aged nought (i.e. a newborn) to 99 or from one to a hundred and all living in the village of Hamble.
We had a long discussion about whether the pictures should be done in the studio or at another location – perhaps connected to the individual – and eventually decided that consistency and simplicity would be best: black and white portraits shot in the studio to allow the individual faces to stand out against a white background.
And that was as far as we got. We had two children, and that occupied all our energy for several years. And then in 2016 Tina suffered from Encephalitis, a rare condition of brain inflammation that is fatal for one in ten sufferers. One consequence is memory loss and for a few hours when her condition was critical, she didn’t recognise me, wasn’t sure how many children she had, their ages or names.
Since that time, she has been fortunate to have a strong recovery, and once she returned to work a few months after getting out of hospital, the idea of the 100 in Hamble resurfaced. A project about memories seemed the perfect way to recover memory, allowing her to reconnect with the village and the people in it. The story of the 100 in Hamble is also the story of Tina’s recovery.
Since then, fifty women have come to the studio, had their picture taken by Tina and spoken to her about their lives and their time in the village. I’ve written up each of those interviews, and posted the pictures to a website that we built for the purpose.
All the women have a story to tell, some ordinary, some exceptional, their individual lives revealing the history of the village through its people.
We’re only half way but it already strikes me that we’re building an unusual record in both words and pictures. The passing of the years is most clearly visible in the images, but the words tell their own story, they lead to so many trains of thought.
Here’s one: I had no idea that medical advice for women after childbirth in the early 1940s was to stay in bed for two weeks. It wasn’t easy to comply when the city was being blitzed by the Luftwaffe and the only relatively safe haven was the bomb shelter in the garden. She had to be carried there by the landlord from the pub opposite, while her Mum carried the baby.
So far, two Hamble women have told us about being bombed out of their homes. It’s easy to forget that this is the lived experience of people still amongst us. We don’t just watch it on the news, happening to other people. It happened here, and it could happen again.
It's the story of one village, but it could be the story of any small community in England, tracing through imagery and words the changes wrought by age, by industrialisation, two world wars and the coming of the information age. A story told through the lives and faces of ordinary women – sisters, mothers, friends, aunts and great-great grandmothers.
It’s been a remarkable journey, particularly because I’ve taken it with my amazing wife, watching her slowly get stronger, recovering memory, concentration, skills and stamina, and coming to terms with what’s happened. These are remarkable photos by a remarkable lady. I can’t wait to get started on the second half.