MoMento 11: Norm and Noeleen. Bernie Harfleet and Donna Sarten

MoMento 11: Norm and Noeleen. Bernie Harfleet and Donna Sarten


PhotoForum MoMento 11: Norm and Noeleen. Bernie Harfleet and Donna Sarten

Essay by John B. Turner.

Published by PhotoForum, May 2012

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My father, Norman Harfleet, suffered depression most of his life and all of mine. He was born in England and lied about his age to go to the Second World War. He remembered a cruel father who never once called him by his name, and said that when his father was buried on his 15th birthday it was the best birthday present he ever had. His mother, whom he was devoted to, died a year later. He immigrated to New Zealand and married my mother. Unable to have children “of their own” they adopted me at a month old in 1964. With the wisdom of hindsight I can see why Norm was so distant as a father, and in many ways unable to parent. In the last five years of his life I was the only one constantly there for him, and yet I’m not sure he ever really understood me or saw my worth. When I asked if I could photograph him after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2010 (he had smoked since he was 14) I was surprised that he said yes to this unique opportunity to highlight an aspect of society many would prefer to ignore. Bernie Harfleet

My mother, Noeleen O’Brien, suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which means that her whole world has revolved around her and no one else. She was the youngest of seven children, by 10 years. She was six when her father died, but nobody told her, so she sat for weeks on the fence every evening waiting for him to come home. Engaged to a young man who called the wedding off when he lost his sight in World War II, she later married my father, an alcoholic, who had served in the Royal New Zealand Navy. Unable to have children they adopted my brother Kevin in 1956 and me in 1959. Our father helped clean up Hiroshima after the dropping of the bomb and when we were very young he told us bedtime stories of what he had seen there! Our childhood was violent – a bit like war – and our home, where many horrors took place, was more like a prison. Noeleen has lived there for the past 51 years, and has caregivers twice a day to help her stay in her own home as long as possible. Donna Sarten

This publication is a catalogue of the exhibition of the same name at the Corban Estate Arts Centre, Waitakere, 1 June - 8 July 2012 as part of the Auckland Festival of Photography.

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Bernie Harfleet is a multi-disciplinary artist who uses painting, sculpture and photography to explore social-political themes. Bernie shares a studio with his partner, Donna Sarten, at Corban Estate Arts Centre, in West Auckland, where Bernie was raised and has lived most of his life. Donna is a graduate of the Elam School of Fine Arts, the University of Auckland. Together they have four children and four grandchildren.