That’s Beautiful – Now What?
Today is my mothers 70th birthday… if she were still alive. She died of cancer in 1996 after struggling to live for a year. During that time I had a mental breakdown of sorts and also struggled with who I was as a photographer. Like many children I suppose, I was looking to my mother for validation, acceptance and encouragement. I wasn’t a child at the time by any stretch, but I was still my mother’s child.
I have a very strong memory of showing her an image of a rusting pipe and girder I had found under a bridge along the Don Valley River. I was entranced – and still am – with the colours and shapes that had formed organically over years of water and weather in combination with the weather worn graffiti. At the time I was at loose ends and unsure of my subject matter – in fact I had no concrete idea at all and was exploring to see what I could see and perhaps even practicing my skills as a photographer.
All the same, I took my new images to show to my mother hoping for approval and encouragement. You see, my mother was an artist and I was immensely proud of her. She had struggled so hard with her own identity and come by her skills and ideas with great effort. I felt a kinship as I struggled with my own process. I was hoping she would recognize this and give me her blessing. She didn’t.
My mother said – “that’s beautiful, but what are you going to do with them?”
This statement has defined me ever since.
A couple more things. I haven’t spoken of this so much outside my family. Mostly I think because who wants to hear a sob story when they are interested in your images, but also because I came to think I understood the motivation behind why my mother said that when she did. She was dying and very ill at the time. Likely much of what she was thinking revolved around making sure her children and family were going to be all right after she was gone. She was thinking of her own difficult experiences as an artist and wanted to warn me away from that difficult path. I’ll never know for certain, I wasn’t brave enough or thoughtful enough at the time to ask.
Now, I have a young son, Alexander, and I am a parent carefully watching and guiding my child’s life so that he may reach his full potential. I have a strong appreciation of both my parents and all that they said and did for me, but I also try to temper my statements during what I am able to recognize as important nexus moments in my son’s life. I hope to help him maintain clarity in his vision and purpose.
Despite this difficult and long lasting defining moment I AM a photographer artist now. I walked that path anyway – probably because it was inevitable. I do have small moments of success – like two days ago when a patron bought a 30″x60″ print of Hope Bay VII and told me “thank you for taking such a wonderful photograph”. This came from someone who, aside from what they see in my photograph, has no knowledge of Hope Bay or the history and emotion it has for me. Amazing.
Look mommy I did it – I only wish you could see it. I miss you tremendously – always.