Portfolio - Things You Left Behind
At the age of 62, my mother became a widow when my stepfather suddenly passed away from a heart attack while at work. While she was mentally prepared for the pain of his loss, the reality turned out to be different and more difficult than either one of us expected. On top of dealing with the pain of my stepfather’s loss, my mother found herself having to deal with all of the things he left behind. There are the sentimental items, like clothing and cologne, but also messes, unfinished projects, and the numerous broken things that he was always “planning on fixing”. She also became solely responsible for all of the household tasks that come with rural New England living. At 5’1”, my mother now cuts and hauls her own wood, clears brush, and maintains all the tools, jobs that were once solely my stepfather’s responsibility. To top it off, she was left with in a terrible financial situation, with large debts and no job in a bad economy.
I became interested in doing a project about my mother and the impact of my stepfather’s death on her for two reasons. The first, and perhaps most obvious, was catharsis. This project has been a way for me to deal with my stepfather’s death, and the difficulties of helping and supporting my mother. The second reason was to capture more fully what someone’s life is like after the loss of a spouse-to show loss in it’s entirety, and not just grief. Early on in the project, my professor turned me on to the work of Mitch Epstein, who turned out to be a big influence on the direction of this work. The way he choose to focus on his family and their business, by putting it in the larger social context of a decaying community, showed me that it’s possible to make work about an intimate subject and still put that subject in a broader social context.
The still lives in this portfolio vary in what they show, from my father’s things to the places that were his domains. Some of them illustrate the chaos that he left behind like the unfinished and clutter filled basement. Others are objects of more sentimental value such as his stacks of books and his handwriting on the wall from various household projects. The images of my mother are meant to be intimate, compressing her into the frame, cutting off parts of her body and conveying a sense of tightness, and of stress. This is how my mother often seems when we are together. These photographs show my mother doing my stepfather’s household tasks or show her in moments of grief, thinking about my stepfather in places they used to go together and interacting with items that hold intimate memories.