Galleries: Sweet is the Swamp (series 1) | Quotidian (series 2)

I have been long interested in the experience of childhood. Even when I myself was a child, I remember telling myself that this was a special place in life, and I remember feeling sad when I felt it slipping away. At the same time, I do not believe that childhood is as carefree or easy as we often tell ourselves. I do believe, however, that there is beauty, poetry and magic in those years; and, ever since I was a child, I have been searching for these in my art.

Fifteen years ago, I began photographing my daughter, literally within 24 hours of her birth. She is my life and muse. Since her birth, I have developed two different bodies of work titled Sweet is the Swamp and Quotidian, which have their genesis in my experience and relationships with my daughter and son.

For the series titled Quotidian, I photographed my daughter Madeleine daily from birth until well past her eleventh birthday. I would say that Quotidian is more directly about family and parenthood.

A few days before Madeleine was born, I bought a camera and began to take a daily photo. It quickly became a family ritual and through the course of the eleven years, her grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends took turns taking the photos while Madeleine was in their care. I also photographed her brother daily, but he decided to stop posing before he was five years old.

The work is straightforward: repeated pictures of a child who is changing imperceptibly from day to day, consequently aligned next to each other to portray a month or a year. When you see the final result, these are specific images of Madeleine; but, in the end, she is every child, every person. It is simple, basic, and still, in some ways, impossible to believe that we transform from a tiny being to an adult.

The series Sweet is the Swamp addresses issues of childhood, memory and fantasy. I titled the work Sweet is the Swamp from a poem by Emily Dickinson, an artist who never had children, and who’s poem speaks of the dark and beautiful side, as well as the secrets and fleeting nature of childhood.

I revisit childhood as I watch my children experience it, and I make pictures out of what I see and experience. I am not interested in creating any kind of narrative or documentary, but rather I want to evoke feelings.

There are virtually no adults in either of these projects. When they appear in the images they are in the blurs in the background or they are cropped out by the composition leaving only a hand or a foot. In fact, in those images the adults almost seem to be invading the child’s space. I envision the adults in my picture to be like those in Charlie Brown—reduced to meaningless speech: “Blah, Blah, blah, blah, blah”.

So, what do I see when I take pictures? Sometimes, I see my kids as a parent, and I think they are beautiful and fascinating. Other times, I see my children learning or experiencing a new thing in life. Still, it is also true that I see colors, light and clichés, like a kid with an ice cream cone; or, anti-clichés—like a naked boy with a hat and a toy gun. I see pleasure and indulgence; color and messiness; a ritual or an absurdity. Sometimes, I do see my own childhood, even though my children really do not remind me of myself.

Sweet is the Swamp with its Secrets
Until we meet a Snake;
’Tis then we sigh for houses
And our departure take
At that enthralling gallop

That only childhood knows.
A snake is summer’s treason
And guile is where it goes.

– Emily Dickinson

I photograph the things I love. The whole premise of both of these projects is exactly that—I make pictures of the most important people in my life, as I go about my day. I photograph the people I love so that I can make art that is not really about them. Ideally, the pictures come from something beyond us that is created. The pictures are not documentary evidence of what happened. I am not recording, in this body of work at least, my children’s childhood. It is probably more accurate to say that I am projecting my own vision onto their childhood.

Motherhood is intense, real and valuable. However, the codified idea of motherhood makes me really uncomfortable, so many expectations come with it. I do not want the label of a mother who makes pictures of her kids. Yet, here I am driving carpools, picking up legos, preparing lunches and photographing all of these moments. When the images work, it’s the best thing in the world because it means that I am simultaneously making good art and being a good parent. That is a rush.

While my art and life coexist, they are not the same. I don’t think the images themselves are really about my kids or their friends or being a mother or a parent. I believe, or maybe I hope, they are about much bigger things. That said, there is always the danger that in the end, an ice cream cone is just an ice cream cone, and baby pictures are just baby pictures; but I don’t really think so.

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