Importance Of My Mother
Somehow I’ve managed to avoid facing the important creative connection I have with my mother. It’s a difficult topic for me. I’ve always sought my mother’s approval but for 17 years now I’ve had to proceed without it – a necessary step one way or another – I suppose… and an important form of growth.
It was my mother who first pointed out the perfect composition of a portrait I’d made while in university of my friend Kim. I gave it to my mother as a gift – it now hangs in my living room. Up to that time I hadn’t considered what I was doing was particularly good or important. With that one gesture, she gave me purpose. I had only recently bought my own 35mm camera and was experimenting with black and white night exposures.
There’s a cloudy space in my memory between that time in 1984 to 1993. I know I showed work to my mother during that time, seeking her approval and I made gifts for her. She liked the music I listened to so I made a box with photographs on the outside to house cassettes of music mixes with photographs for their covers.
From when I left university in 1988 to 1993 I built darkrooms in each place I lived – twice in my parents basement in Guelph, my tiny bathroom in Hamilton – where my funky stable water temperature plumbing rig seriously flooded the place – and the basements of the two apartments where I lived in Windsor. In 1993 as I was about to leave to travel for 4 months I decided to test out Fuji colour negative films. I’d heard they were bright and saturated particularly in the blues and greens unlike Kodak films – which excited me since the majority of my work was about landscapes – sky and trees. I never really went back to black and white and only briefly built one other darkroom after that
Upon returning from traveling I made two colour prints taken from that trip for my mother and decided to edit the images into three hand bound books I made specially. This was the first time I intentionally grouped my work thematically and the first time I exhibited and sold work.
1993 to 1998 was a period of intense change. The end of a 5 year relationship and beginning of my current one, my mother sick and dying with cancer, estrangement from my sister, I quit my stable job and career – oscillated between consulting and my art practice, switched from black and white to colour negative film to colour positive slide film to scanning film and printing digitally on paper and film, saved to purchase a computer, scanners, printers, tablet, film recorder and colour accurate monitor, taught myself Photoshop, photo editing, colour management and printing, all about the hardware and three unstable operating systems, moved to Toronto and stopped commuting almost daily between cities – Guelph, Hamilton, London, Windsor, Georgian Bay and Muskoka.
All of this profoundly affected my photography and served to focus my direction. I struggled to express the emotion I was experiencing in my new tumultuous life, rooted for the first time in a large busy urban centre with little or no regular escape to the countryside, working with new modalities in photography, coping with the loss of my mother and the stress of switching careers. I began to explore the colour of the city. I managed to escape for periods of time to Hawaii and Europe where I continued in vane to explore the calm countryside – even experimenting with abstracting outside the frame. Ultimately it was the colour and texture of Toronto that was the answer and this was what I showed my mother while she lay dying in bed. In retrospect, this was the single most important defining moment between us.
Aside from this brief list of encounters between my mother and I, I was – and am still – profoundly affected by her struggle as an artist. She worked to define herself during a time when as a woman she was expected to only be and even rejected as anything other than a housewife and mother of three children. Her expertise was colour and fabric. She was an amazing seamstress making most of her and our clothes and volunteering tirelessly in her community. Ironically I think she was finally finding her feet as an artist just as she got sick and would have had greater success in her work had she lived. I feel awful and ungrateful saying this, but my mother’s death and the consequent end of our relationship facilitated and sped my creative growth – I would be someone different today were she still alive.
I have several beautiful examples of her fabric sculptures in my studio that daily remind me of her and us. There is great sadness and oddly, squeamish embarrassment in me as I write about my mother and my past history, but there is also great joy and hope, because I can see just how far I’ve come.