Someone Else’s Mother

“I grew up in London with a Filipina woman called Juning, who had four children of her own living on a small island in the Philippines 7,000 miles away. Juning’s husband left her when their children were young, and all financial responsibility for the family fell to her.

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Author: carolineirby


For several years Juning worked as a nanny in the capital, Manila, while her children were looked after by her mother on her native island, Bantayan, but in 1974, knowing that a local income could not stretch to cover the school fees, Juning decided to look for work abroad. Her youngest child was two years old when she left for Hong Kong.

In 1976 my parents and brother Nico, who was then a year old, moved from London to Hong Kong for my father’s work with a bank. My mother soon became pregnant with me, and in the spring of 1977, a few weeks before I was born, she advertised for a ‘mother’s help’ – someone to look after her children and home alongside her – at the local Waitrose. Juning was one of four women who responded to the post; she lived with and worked for my family for the next twenty-two years.

Now, as an adult and a mother myself, the notion that Juning lived apart from her children for three decades is painful to imagine, and I can’t shake off a feeling of strangeness that their lives and mine carried on in tandem for all those years, mine with their mother, theirs without. My parents chose to employ Juning, and her influence on my life has been so extensive, I can’t say where it starts or ends.”

Every day, 5,000 Filipinos leave their country in search of work abroad. There are currently an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos living outside of the Philippines. Collectively they funnel 20 billion US$ into the Philippine economy every year. For decades this movement has been female dominated; more than 70% of Filipino emigrants are currently women. There isn’t a figure for how many leave children behind, but Caroline Irby grew up in the intimate care of one of these women. In “Someone Else’s Mother”, Caroline tells Juning’s story and brings into focus the lives of the children she left, carefully interweaving these stories with her own recollections of a childhood spent with their mother.

Caroline Irby is a British photographer based in London. Her particular areas of interest are immigration and children. She has always written as well as photographed, starting at 17 with articles in The Independent and Evening Standard. During 2009 Caroline had a weekly photograph and interview column, “Seen and Heard”, in the Guardian Weekend Magazine, and during 2011-2012 she had a column in Mainichi newspaper, Japan: a photograph and story about a different child each week, who she has met through her work and travels.

In 2010, Caroline’s first book, A Child from Everywhere, was published by Black Dog Publishing. For this project, she photographed and interviewed children from 185 different countries, all now living in the UK. From 2014-15, Caroline was a contributing editor to Newsweek Magazine. Her work has been shown at venues including the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, Royal Festival Hall, Somerset House, the Edinburgh G8 summit, The World Children’s Art Museum, Japan, and the National Parliament, Uganda.


Reviews & Features
Financial Times newspaper (July 25-26th, 2020)
Financial Times newspaper (July 11th, 2020)
Financial Times 
It’s Nice That 
The Association of Photographers
Photobookstore – Photobooks of 2020: Alys Tomlinson
The Right Human blog
Amateur Photographer magazine (March 9th, 2021)
Rolling Stone Italia
The Prisma 
Photobook Journal 


Design: Victor Levie, LevievanderMeer, Amsterdam
ISBN 9789053309407
Format: 18.8 x 24.5 cm
Hardback with cloth cover
120 pages with approx. 65 photos in full colour

Additional information

Weight 0.600 kg
Dimensions 24.5 × 18.8 × 0.14 cm


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