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Arrangement in Gray and Black….with Mother

Posted in Things We Love

20131205-lens-smithson-slide-AVIQ-jumboIt has taken me a long time to become comfortable with being feted on Mother’s Day, an occasion I usually mark with a quick phone call to my mother, same as every other day. It’s not that I think this Hallmarks’ holiday is silly and redundant (well, I guess I do) but it has everything to do with how I came about motherhood. I personally chose not to have children but I raised two step-children who lost their birth mother when they were rather young. For all intents and purposes, I am the mother they most remember and with whom they have spent most of their lives.

But I needed about 12 years not to feel a fraud. Last Sunday, Mother’s Day in most non-UK affiliated Western countries,  my step-daughter gave a me a sweet and heartfelt card that finally made me accept I was IT, mother with a capital M whether I chose to be or not. Sharing the same blood does not a family make, necessarily.

Both my step-children who, along with their father, have put a standing veto on being talked about in this blog, always thought I was “weird”. “You are so weird” they would mutter when I showed up at soccer practice with the sugar-free treats; or refused to have anything to do with PTA committees and put a ban on buying more wrapping paper to benefit the school; or objected to trade my two-seater for a mini-van (they secretly loved my car and I secretly loved having an excuse not to carpool); or when they asked me to buy Hamburger Helper and I had to admit I had no idea what that was.

20131205-lens-smithson-slide-5P9X-blog480When I came across these photos, that our friend Bonnie sent us, they made me think that my step-kids, thirty years from now, would feel perfectly comfortable asking me to dress up as a geisha and pose for photographs if the thought ever struck them, on the account that I am already “weird”.

Aline Smithson is a Los Angeles based former fashion editor, and now photographer, whose penchant for scouring garage sales inspired the photographic work she created with her mother as a muse. It all started with the reproduction of a Whistler painting (Arrangement in Gray and Black #1) Aline found at a garage sale.

The original Whistler painting
The original Whistler painting

“I sought to create a series using the Whistler’s painting as a starting point, but add in humor that comes from juxtaposing personality, painting, and wardrobe. For two years, I collected costumes and bad paintings from thrift stores and eBay. Sometimes I would find the costume first and then look for a suitable painting; sometimes it was the other way around. I created a set in my garage and I asked my 85-year-old mother to be my model. She did not understand what I was up to, but it allowed us to spend time together and that was important to both of us. My mother was very fragile at the time. She was in an out of the hospital during those years, and sometimes I had to wait for her health to improve so we could continue.”

Aline_Smithson11The level of trust between muse and daughter is what I love most about these photos. And I envy a bit the fun they must have had.

arrangement-3“My mother died before she was able to see the finished product. She would be amazed that people all over the world have seen and love this work. I too am amazed that these funky sets, built against my garage, opened the door to the world of photography. Personally, I consider that magic.” A mother’s legacy if ever there was one.

To see the entire series, click here.

All images copyright of Aline Smithson

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. Weird can have its up-side. As L. Scottoline would say, “Let your freak flag fly!”

    May 16, 2014
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    • I agree with you and Lisa Scottoline – I am all for weird!

      May 18, 2014
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  2. I did some drawings of my mum when I was home for Christmas. I found that there was something special about capturing her in a permanent hold that is different than taking a photo. It’s something for the ages.
    Hope your Mother’s Day was lovely.

    May 16, 2014
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    • Maybe one day you will share them? Love your drawings

      May 16, 2014
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  3. I would have to drug my mother to get her to do something like this, my 93 year old nonna would be more inclined. And for the record, my two children who are very much my own, often tell me I’m ‘una mamma snaturata’. I love the photographs.

    May 16, 2014
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    • You are a mamma snaturata and I am a mamma strana. But we all got used to each other and learnt to respect our quirks.

      May 16, 2014
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  4. I’m a huge Whistler fan, I find myself standing in front of his paintings in the Tate (London) for ages, completely absorbed by all the layers of thought within them. Thank you for introducing me to the work of Aline Smithson, her photographs are wonderful, so original, loving and funny. I think Whistler would have loved them too!

    May 16, 2014
    |Reply
  5. silvia
    silvia

    Love this story. It’s a real shame that Aline’s mother couldn’t see the final outcome. Nonetheless it’s what they experienced together that matters

    May 16, 2014
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  6. I love these, so quirky, well done Aline and her mum! Oh, and just for the record, you sound like you have been a pretty cool stepmum, and got the balance just right! Lovely post!
    Jane x

    May 16, 2014
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    • I appreciate the vote of confidence! I think the kids finally got to the same conclusion.

      May 16, 2014
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