After a decade of traveling the globe as a fashion editor, I married, had my daughter Charlotte, and found myself back in Los Angeles so that my husband could pursue a graduate degree. I had another child, Henry, and began to stumble around trying to figure out what to do with my life, outside of being a mother. After a few failed attempts at a new career path, I took a photography class, and never looked back.
One morning, my husband woke me up to the words, There is a garage sale across the street. That was enough to make me rise out of bed as if it were on fire, and high tail it to someone else’s junk. The stars must have been aligned as there were three sales on my block: the first provided a small print of Whistler’s Mother (the real title is Arrangement in Gray and Black, Portrait of the Painter’s Mother), which got me thinking about the idea of portraiture, strong compositional relationships, and the evocative nature of unassuming details. The next sale provided a leopard coat, hat and fabric, and a chair that looked very similar to the one in Whistler’s painting. At the final sale, I found a painting of a cat, and I knew I was on to something.
As a model she often wanted to be dramatic in the images, and I had to tone her down. My favorite shoot was recreating the geisha image. She kept laughing as I was trying to focus and I had to tell her to stop smiling so much. When I finally was able to focus on the whole image, I realized that she was giving me the finger. I printed that one for myself. As I progressed with the series, it become more meaningful, especially because I was bringing joy and laughter into our lives when there was plenty to cry about.
I was amazed at how well my mother embodied each character, and I was still able to capture her elegance, humor, and willingness to try anything. Each time I repaint one of the photographs, I think about her and I see the whole process of this project as a gift, allowing me time to reflect on our collaboration.
My mother died before she was able to see the finished product. She would be amazed that people all over the world have seen and love this work. I too am amazed that these funky sets, built against my garage, opened the door to the world of photography. Personally, I consider that magic.