Looking for Alice, and finding love in an extraordinary place

“Home” (Sian Davey)

Seven years ago, Sian Davey was a psychotherapist living in London when the sculptor Louise Bourgeois revealed a path for her. As Davey walked through the Bourgeois retrospective at the Tate Modern, upset by a recent miscarriage, she realized she had to create something in order to let go of her grief. Davey chose a Mamiya 7 film camera as her tool and color film as her medium. “Photography helped me frame what I felt,” says Davey who later became pregnant with her fourth child. This time it was almost certain the baby would be born with Downs Syndrome. Davey and her partner, unlike 90 percent of other couples who receive this information in Britain, chose to have the baby. “I started to photograph Alice everyday.”

At first Davey struggled, not only with her photography but with her relationship to Alice. She felt distant from her, unlike her previous experiences. “Obstacles are always about ourselves,” says Davey. “This was my fear about difference. The process of photographing this work helped me shine a light on why I struggled to love her, which was essentially fear and uncertainty.” In time Davey put aside the list of narratives she had painstakingly studied to find a structure in which to work and just kept the camera with her always. Soon the story was no longer about her but about Alice and how beautifully and intrinsically her presence had woven everyone together into an adorable, loving, and strong family.

“I must have lived near an institution when I was growing up,” recalls Davey after she had prepared Alice for her bedtime one evening. “I remember seeing children walking in a straight line, some of them taken from their mothers at a very young age. They were marginalized from society.” Last Christmas Davey and Alice took their new book, “Looking for Alice” to the school classroom. As Alice flipped the pages, she recognized herself in the pictures. “That’s me!” she cried.

Davey stops. “The last picture in the book I call ‘Home'” It’s the portrait of Alice that sits at the top of this post.