Mother’s Day has never been easy for me. I can’t imagine it was less difficult for my mother. For decades it was a reminder of not having a mother in the way that I would have liked. A mom to make lunches, help me pick out school clothes and tuck me into bed. All the Hallmark cards were obviously written by someone who had a mother growing up. “Thanks Mom for being there”. “I can’t imagine a better mother than you”. I stopped looking through the cards. There wasn’t one that said “I love you even though you had to leave and I understand that now as an adult”.
When I was a child my mother abandoned my family to have an affair. The man she left us for turned out to be violent; he beat her so badly that she suffered permanent brain damage and had to be moved into an assisted living facility where she still lives today. Of her five children, only my younger sister has visited her regularly over the years.
I have early, fond memories of my mom as a beautiful, passionate, vivacious, and fiery, Guatemalan Sophia Loren. But since she left us, I have had tremendous feelings of abandonment and rage towards her. Her actions led me to judge her as impetuous, selfish, reckless,and a negligent mother. I resented what she did to herself and her family. I carried so much anger, yet whenever I saw her, I was overcome with pity and sadness. Just looking at her gnarled hand from the brain damage brought forth more emotion than I could bear. For these reasons, I have virtually ignored my mother to try and distance myself from my own pain.
I have been pushing down my feelings about my mother for decades. In graduate school I began to dissolve the judgments I held against my mother with the work I did with a healer. Last year I did something different. I began to explore and photograph my mother for the first time with my camera. This is what I do with my feelings now. On this road to acceptance, I can experience my raw emotions through the safe distance of a camera lens.
Annie Leibowitz’s advice to young photographers is to “start with friends and family. The people who will put up with you. Stay close to home. Discover what it means to be close to a subject.” Photographer Steve McCurry said “If you want to be a photographer, first leave home.” When I started taking photos as a little girl, I stuck close to friends and family. At twenty I hit the road, moving to Israel and was happiest when I was taking photos in another country. I’m back to photographing what is close to home; my mother, father and even myself.