In 1994 my mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and became insulin-dependent. In 2013 we learned that she had been living with a rare auto-immune disorder that caused her liver to harden— slowly preventing it from doing its important jobs of regulating sugars, eliminating toxins, and converting nutrients into usable substances for her body. Over the next six years she lost 100 pounds as her body succumbed to malnutrition.
I began photographing my mother regularly when I moved to Columbus, Ohio. She lived about an hour south, but all of her doctors were in the big city. I was able to learn about my mom’s illness by being physically closer and photographing her; The more time we spent together, the more time I stopped using my camera. I began by photographing her in her home, then by accompanying my parents on my mother’s numerous doctor visits. During the last three years of her life, the appointments more frequently became visits to the emergency room, and then short stays in the hospital.
I photographed everything I could, in every way I knew how, without a plan, without consistency. I used large, medium, and small format cameras as well as my cellphone to document my mother, and then by surprise, my father too, as they made their way through the maze of the health care system — as they made their way to the end of their lives. I froze this time we spent together using black and white 4” x 5” film, 6.25” x 6.25” expired color film, and using digital capture technology. I made huge prints, intimate prints, and every size in between.
Photographer Nan Goldin’s well-known body of work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is an accumulation of over five years of slides she made of her friends and family. In an interview for the BBC (The Genius of Photography: We Are Family, BBC Four. November 20, 2007. S01 E05) she said, “Photography has actually saved my life many times. I have walked through many things I am afraid by photographing them. Literally. Photography has enabled me to never lose anyone, or so I thought. And then, when my best friend died in 1989, [. . .] I realized that I really had lost her, no matter how many pictures I had of her, and photography had failed me because it doesn’t do what I thought it would do at the beginning, which is save people’s lives.”
Her family, friends, and lovers were her subjects. My mother and father were also a willing participants in the images I made of them. My mom would tell people, “Shell loves to take pictures of me when I look my worst!” Yet while driving to every appointment she would give me a call to make sure I had a chance to meet her at the doctor’s office for photographs. Was my determination to photograph my parents in their rapid decline an attempt to hold on to them forever, or was it a way of saving myself, of walking through something I feared and removing myself from the very thing I was making permanent through the processes of photographic capture? I produced hundreds of photographs during the last three years of their lives. A selection of these images formed this body of work, Support, when, after reflecting on the numerous printed images, I realized that, although I was usually looking at my mom, I was actually making photographs of the support they had for each other, my dad during her long-term illness, and she for him in his final days.