To this day, you point a camera in her direction and my mother’s shoulders go back, a leg is extended, and the face is angled to its best advantage. When we Skype, she worries about, and adjusts, the lighting in the room to her advantage. She can’t help herself, it’s the way she was raised.
My mother grew up in front of a camera, in a family and an era where pretty was seen as her most valuable asset. She had a headful of strawberry blond banana curls and uncles who were camera buffs. ”They would take me outside, put me on a pedestal, and start shooting.”
Fast forward out of childhood, and there she stood, shoulders back, her hair now a thick and wild mane of red, one long leg extended at an angle, small breasts, and cheekbones that could slice steak—the body couture designer’s dream of—and a “black ass” you could set a cocktail on – the milkshake that brought all the boys to the yard.
It seems inevitable that she married my father, or another photographer just like him. She was trained to become who you wanted her to be in front camera. To him, everything was photo opportunity.
I don’t imagine there are enough years in infinity to achieve the emotional distance needed to be objective about one’s family photos. Instead, I simply assemble the archives of her life, their marriage, my childhood, as seen through the lens of a variety of cameras. My favorite photos are the one when she’s been caught off-guard, or later, has tired of posing and reverts to her natural state of silly.
Me and my little mommy, first baby, first day home from the hospital, first one in her plan that included a dozen. I love the cigarette. It was 1957, there was always a cigarette; but there was never another baby. Plans change.
Photos credit: Fred Doff, July 1957
Location: Jackson Heights, Queens