It 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.
When 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.
“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.”
“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