Tierney Gearon is a fine art photographer who I want to feature as my 3rd “March Mother”. Her project, appropriately titled “The Mother Project”, contains portraits of her mother, herself and her children. A show of this work at the Saatchi Gallery in London raised a large controversary – the London Police accused the artist of pornography and required the images to be taken down! That said, I find the images to be provocative and disturbing but in a revelatory way.
From the book forward:
“When I first saw the images …. I wanted to ask Tierney Gearon for every detail of this woman, her mother, who seemed to display so many faces — dejected, exuberant, brave, lonely, or flamboyant ones — in a matter of moments. Tierney explained, though, that her journey behind the lens was more relevant to the work than the details of her mother’s illness.
“My mother had no boundaries,” she said in speaking of her childhood with her father and three younger brothers in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a hierarchy that threw her into a maternal role early on.
Now the mother of four children — Emilee, Michael, Walker, and Grace — Tierney wanted to resurrect parts of her own past, and in doing so she was able to discover her own growth process.
With her kids in tow, she chronicled visits to her mom in upstate New York, shooting spontaneously as events occurred, walking in fields, peering or placing herself in quotidian bedroom or bathroom scenes. As she went along, sometimes she would add an element to see what might take place — asking her mom to put on a mask for example — then shoot.
“When I started documenting times with my mother, it felt good to be able to express what I was feeling inside and translate it. I do not have the need to take photos twenty four hours a day. I select moments to switch into ‘camera mode.’ And when I look back on a lot of these images, I feel most of them are self-portraits of my soul. Being around my mother is such a painful and happy experience. I tried to take the best of my mom and apply it to the way I look at life. These are not photos of a woman who is ill, but of a relationship between a mother and a daughter — two artists. This work is how I transfer my feeling into art to process pain and frustration. The last time I visited my mother, I remember her standing next to Walker, and I decided to give Walker the baby to see what would occur. And then I saw him holding Grace, shielding her as though he was guarding her from my mother. It’s interesting — I had no idea that he was going to do that. Then when I looked at the shot, I thought, isn’t that weird? When I gave birth to Walker, it marked the time in my life when I learned about my own boundaries — how to protect myself. I love my mother. I wanted to fix her. It was hard to be able to let go of that, because my mother is like one of my children. I wanted her to be okay. At the same time, I wanted her to take care of me. But I realized that would never happen. So I learned to take care of myself.”
Through these images and in this book, Tierney grew up all over again. But this time, through her lens, she could comprehend her own evolution, testing emotions and the vicissitudes of human relationships along the way. Still, she remains unfazed. Everyone, she told me, has wounds from the past. And the particulars of dealing with her mother’s mental illness take away from the motive behind this collection:
“The beautiful thing about my mother is that she has this spark for life. She will see a black-eyed Susan in a field of weeds, and she’ll ask me to bring it home with me. That is what she will notice. In all this rubble of grass in her front yard, she finds this one little flower. I want to celebrate that.””
– Susan M. Kirshbaum