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Arnolfini Gallery
CREDIT: Alison Webber

Holding the Baby

An exhibition of images by Polly Braden illustrating the lives of single parents.

“Holding the Baby,” provides an insight into the lives of a number of single parents and is on display at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol until 12th June 2022. I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to see the exhibition for myself and I would definitely recommend it.

Polly Braden’s “Holding the Baby” project came about as a result of the findings of the 2019 United Nations report on poverty which concluded that single parent families have been the most severely affected by austerity measures.

According to a survey carried out by the charity “Gingerbread,” whose aim is for a society in which single parent families are treated equally and fairly, single parents make up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children.

There are a number of reasons for single parent families including relationship breakup, illness and bereavement and choice.

Single parents are often forced to make some very difficult choices in order to care for their children and pay the bills, sometimes forced to move away from the very support networks that enabled them to work and study.

6. Gemma With Freya And Elsie, Holding The Baby 2021 By Polly Braden. Courtesy Of The Artist. All Rights Reserved
CREDIT: Polly Braden

A single parent herself, and keen to discover more about the experiences of other people who are bringing up children on their own, Polly decided she wanted to gain a better insight into how some people were coping with the challenges of being a single parent.

Using her passion as a documentary photographer, Polly embarked on a yearlong project, spending time visually documenting the lives of seven single parents, six mothers and one father living in Liverpool, London, Bristol and Easton.

As a result of the project, Polly gained a valuable insight into their lives, celebrating their strengths and highlighting the inequalities and difficulties they face.

The pandemic highlighted the struggles and frustrations faced by single parent families, for example, the need to juggle home schooling with other day to day responsibilities and the loss of employment leading to financial insecurity and an increased reliance on food banks.

5. Fran With Dominic And Penny, Holding The Baby 2021 By Polly Braden. Courtesy Of The Artist. All Rights Reserved
CREDIT: Polly Braden

On the plus side, however, the pandemic has accentuated the resilience of these families and their stories showcase not only optimism but also a sense of adventure, creativity and ambition.

I wanted to show single parents in a really positive light, to show what they are able to create.

This desire to raise the profile of single parents is shared by the parents themselves, one of whom, Barbeline feels that ‘Holding the Baby’ has helped to change the narrative in terms of how single parents are perceived.

Not all single parents are the same. Polly’s project has helped to change negative (perceptions) into positive ones.

2. Barbeline And Elijah, Holding The Baby 2021 By Polly Braden. Courtesy Of The Artist. All Rights Reserved
CREDIT: Polly Braden

In order to illustrate the stories, each image is accompanied by excerpts from interviews conducted by journalist Sally Williams in addition to reflective words from a wider group of single parents instigated by writer, Claire-Louise Bennett.

Hero image: Alison Webber

All other images: Polly Braden