I asked my mother if I could come over one day and take some photographs of her. Her first response was, “Oh Robin I don’t know, I really don’t like my hair right now.” I laughed at her and said that this was not a glamour session or even the traditional photo shoot where she would be smiling at the camera in her best dress. I told her this was something different and more meaningful. I asked her what she loved doing in her moments of solace. I already knew the answer, but I wanted to start the conversation and get her to feel comfortable with my vision.
When I think about my mother I picture her in her bedroom praying and reading her bible because that is what brings her peace. I remember as a child I always loved looking at her rosaries. To me, they were beautiful pieces of artwork, not to be worn but tucked away in a special box only to be used when it was time to worship. As I started photographing her my heart filled with love and admiration. Love for this woman who raised me and admiration for her complete and unshakable devotion to her faith. I then asked her to sit in her spot in the house where she would read her bible. She told me she got the bible when she was 19, 72 years ago...WOW. As I looked through my lens at her fingers supporting the book, they reminded me of tree roots holding up what would be the foundation of my mother’s beliefs for her entire life. The image was strong and I couldn’t wait to ask more questions and dive deeper into my family history.
As we sat together on the couch I asked her if she kept anything of my father’s after he’d passed. She said she had a small box of things and immediately went to get them. I did not know what to expect, but felt a wave of excitement and anticipation. I opened the box and there were 2 trinkets I immediately wanted to learn more about. The first was a pin she kept that was given to my father right before he retired. He worked for Solar Turbines after serving in the Navy and the pin was a representation of a old gas turbine. I asked her to gently place it in her hands. My mother’s hands, although old and fragile on the surface, represented pillars of strength and stability for me. The final objects were from my father’s time in the military. There were various ID cards, certificates and a ribbon badge that came with an explanation as to why he received it. “For outstanding heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea from August 3, 1950 to August 1. 1951. Operating continuously in the most advanced areas , the U.S.S. BANOENG STRAIT consistently maintained a high degree of combat readiness and rendered invaluable assistance in providing close air support for friendly ground forces throughout this period of vital operations against the enemy.” These items were 67 years old and I held them with great care and respect. I loved learning about my father and wished I asked more questions when he was in my presence.
As I reflected on this time with mom and looked at the images taken that afternoon I realized all of this came from one question…”Mom, can I take your picture?” It sounds so simple, but can be one of the most important and profound things you can do with someone you love. After my father died I had many regrets. Regrets of not spending enough time with him, not engaging in more conversations about his history and not saying I love you enough. It took 6 years after his death for me to get involved with Alzheimer’s San Diego and eventually connecting with my mother on a whole different level. I found peace in sharing my listening ear to those who were touched by this disease and capturing the heart of who they are with my camera. I heard a quote by Tony Bennett that has stuck with me for years and feels very appropriate at this time,
“Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough.”