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MUM SAID YOU WERE DEAD!

This picture story is about Mike Holpin a 47 year old Welsh father to 20 children.

I first met Mike in 2003, whilst on assignment for The South Wales Argus. In my profession as a photographer, I have met many interesting people, each with their own unique story to tell. But Mike was something else.

At our first meeting, I did feel a little bit on edge, but I liked his honesty and his direct approach to life. He invited me in to his home where I took his picture for the news story; he had saved the life of a teenager who had been stabbed by another teenager. During the photoshoot, we started to chat about his family. He told me he had 19 children, how badly he had treated his ex-wives and that saving the girls life was the first good thing he had ever done in his life. He then showed me a massive tattoo on his back in shape of a family tree where all his children's names was engraved. There was clearly a story to tell, and I asked Mike if I could contact him again.

Six months later, I found myself at Mike and Petrina's house surrounded by screaming kids. This was my chance to "impress" the family and hope they would like my idea of documenting their lives. I also wanted to try to get the extended family together for one big reunion. This was never going to be easy. Over the years, Mike had lost contact with many of his children. After all, the 20 children were shared between 4 women. Some of the children were even the same age; Luke Gordon, Luke Gavin & Brett were all born in 1993. During the year I spent documenting the family, there was to be one more addition to the family. Nineteen became twenty. Mike managed to re-connect with 6 of his ‘missing’ children – thereby bring the extended clan closer together.

This exhibition is the story of an extraordinary family in the South Wales Valleys. It is an insight into what appears at first glance to be a difficult life, and yet, despite the problems and challenges, one which still shows a normal, functioning family unit.

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ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT BETINA SKOVBRO 2008

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