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.
I met Robert Zuckerman on a movie in 1992 called The Temp. It was early in both our careers. I was Lara Flynn Boyle’s stunt double on The Temp. I had recently finished doubling her on Wayne’s World where I did a bike hit and high fall for her. Some of the stunt guys knew about the bike hit so my name was passed around when it came time for Lara to do her next movie and a double was needed. We were in Oregon for six weeks in Portland and on location on the Oregon coast for driving sequences with Andy Gill doubling Tim Hutton. The one minute driving sequence that is in the movie where the brakes go out on their car took us two weeks to film. But I digress.
When I was working on The Temp, Robert Zuckerman was the stills photographer. It’s the movie where I have the most photos of myself with the actress I was doubling. I asked him to take photos and he did. That’s the kind of guy Robert is.
I went to Robert’s Portraits exhibit in Santa Monica. It’s nice to see how far he has come. He’s got sensitivity, compassion and kindness that complement his keen eye. Just like my mentor, Robert always cares for others no matter how busy he is. Here’s the shots Robert took of Lara and I on The Temp eighteen years ago and some photos I took of Robert at his exhibit last night.
I went early in the afternoon to see Robert Zuckerman’s photo exhibit. I met Robert on a movie in the early nineties. Robert is a wonderful still photographer for the movies but I especially love his personal work. What immediately struck me about him was his caring, compassionate heart. Robert sees people. He goes out of his way to make someone’s day lighter. His project Kindsight is about everyday people, the humanity in people. The moments are informal. The overall sense is one of upliftment. Check out Robert’s blog.
I’ve been working on three different projects at once. One project is my mother. This project isn’t so uplifting but I’m shooting what I am compelled to and seeing my mother is a gift for both of us. I am able to visit my mother alone which was not always the way for me. I started earnestly back in December after an emotional time. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that I always have my camera with me. The camera offers me an extra layer of protection if you will. Going to visit my mother is still not easy. But it’s not as difficult as it used to be. With my camera I am able to see beyond my naked eye. I am trying to create an emotional connection instead of the distance that I created all those decades.
I find an odd doll that has somehow ended up in tucked in her wheelchair in her room. I’ve found it once before. It’s kind a creepy plastic face and someone took the time to knit it an informal dress. My mother holds onto this doll as if it’s her child. I see how she sometimes grabs it too tightly, just like I do to my cat.
It’s not until I come home and ready myself for the downloading process that I begin to get ready to truly face my mother and myself. After the camera is plugged into the USB connection, the photos start to appear quickly before my eyes but not so fast that I don’t immediately know which photos will end up in my ongoing slide show. I have a total of thirty photos that I have shot since I began this project. I’ve watched the slide show dozens of times because of the editing process. I think “today I’m not going to cry” and I honestly believe I won’t. Because how many tears can one person shed over and over?
I’ve read that Michael Jackson always said “I love you more” after someone said “I love you”. Today when I was leaving my mother, I said “I love you” to her to which she replied “Quiero mas yo”. “I love you more” in spanish. I felt my eyes water as I walked out of her tiny room where she has lived for more than thirty years since her brain damage occurred.
I did a workshop with photography consultant Virginia Mary Swanson and met Sam there. We went to Photo LA the following weekend and had some amazing moments over some good and not so good red wine. Once we moved from the cheesy bar we got to the good wine.
Sam is not only a talented photographer and a go getter but she’s got an amazing heart. Oh, she has a groovy British accent as well as speaks spanish fluently as she grew up in Spain. You can see her work at Rehab Vintage on Beverly Blvd. Here’s a photo of her in front of one of her pieces at Rehab and Sam on her ever present, ever handy i-phone. She’s got a good looking grey cat she calls Bob or the escape artist.
Sam at Terroni's Italian restaurant