Towards the end of the previous Sustainable Prospects module I had the growing impulse that the next stage of evolving my project lay in my ‘other mothers’.
I want to explore my relationships with those incredible women in my life who, following my abandonment by own biological mother, have loved me, nurtured me and deeply and permanently filled that void of ‘motherhood’.
In normal times, I would like to photograph them in such a way that combines some semblance of who they are in themselves and who they are to me. Perhaps a photography that honours them, that tells of my love – and sense of gratitude – for them.
As I put it to one of my other mothers in a letter:
I would like to create…images of those vital women (without whom, I honestly believe I would not have been able to maintain a healthy marriage or be a half decent father to a daughter!).Letter to Julie
But these are not normal times. And perhaps my desire to pare down these portraits to a ‘she-me’ photographic dyad might not be the only strategy available.
During the Christmas break I discovered the work of Paul Mpagi Sepuya for the first time. He’s bowled me over both his general portrait work and with his STUDIO WORK series.
The STUDIO WORK, in Sepuya’s words, is “a project of photographs and related personal archive material” in which “the background of the ever-changing studio space became the repeating element in the series as the subjects, figures, and objects at the centre of the pictures cycled in and out”.
“I realised,” Sepuya goes on, “I realised I needed to work with another kind of fragmentation that was more accountable to me, my hand, etc. So that’s where the kind of cutting and tearing and “collaging” on the mirror surface comes in.”
But it was his use of the phrase “recursive loop of time” that struck through me like a knife. His work is a circular and personally involved act of excavation, of re-working previous captured moments into new time, and new moments.
Our work is very different. But there is something about his strategy that I find searingly relevant to my ‘Other Mothers’, and offers a starting point – that of excavation, of dealing with physicality, of nostalgia, of recursive loops in time – to the work I am so desperately excited (and, yes, a little emotionally hesitant) to begin.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Moffitt, E., Museum, A. and Museum, A. (2020). Paul Mpagi Sepuya. St. Louis, Mo.: Contemporary Art Museum ; New York, N.Y.