Once again I am sending many thanks to Douglas Stockdale, photographer, founder and editor of PhotoBook Journal for continuing this partnership by curating a wonderful set of photography books that look at how photographers explore family.
©Caroline Irby, 2020
Someone Else's Mother by Caroline Irby
Publisher: Schilt Publishing and Gallery, Amsterdam
Review by Melanie Chapman
What is it that constitutes family? Is it a matter of love, or bloodline alone? Is family determined by time spent together, common interests, shared experience? Is family a matter of choosing whom among billions of people on the planet we trust and look out for and want to be with? Can family be all of these definitions and more?
Many of these questions are beautifully explored in Someone Else’s Mother, the tender photobook by Caroline Irby available now from Schilt Publishing. Having been born into a family affluent enough to afford domestic help, Irby and her siblings were raised in London, primarily by their Filipina nanny Juning, to whom they grew quite attached and loved as if she were their second mother.
Concurrently, seven thousand miles away, Juning’s four young children were growing up without their own mother’s affection, being cared for instead by relatives and kept afloat by the earnings that Juning sent home. Abandoned by her husband when their kids were quite young, Juning like hundreds of thousands of women before her and since, had to make the heartbreaking choice to leave her home village for a bigger city and higher paying work. Thus, began decades of separation from her children as she was hired to play an important role in another family’s hearts and their home.
©Jamie Johnson, 2020
Growing Up Travelling by Jamie Johnson
Publisher: Kehrer Verlag, Berlin, Germany
Review by Wayne Swanson
There’s a classic Irish short story in which a child in a village asks an Irish Traveller girl “Do you never tire of the road?” The girl’s quick response is “Do you never tire of being fettered?” That pretty much sums up the world views that divide mainstream society from the Irish Travellers.
Although they are sometimes lumped together with the Roma Gypsies found elsewhere in Europe, the Irish Travellers are a distinct ethnic group that has existed in Ireland as far back as history is recorded. They are historically nomadic, and have been shunned by “settled” society. Documenting them has become something of a cottage industry for photographers of late. Although the Travellers are an insular group distrustful of outsiders, the best of these photographers have taken the time to get to know them and become accepted by them, creating bodies of work that explore various aspects of their lives and culture.
Los Angeles photographer Jamie Johnson is one of them, and her images stand out for her focus on Traveller children. Johnson has spent 20 years photographing children from various cultures around the world, and she has been documenting the Irish Travellers since 2014. Growing Up Travelling captures both the singular culture of the Travellers and the universal joys and challenges of childhood.
©Karen Marshall, 2021
Between Girls by Karen Marshall
Published by: Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany
Review by Gerhard Clausing
Lucky are those who have a group of friends from their childhood that they can still count on way into their later years as adults. And they are even more fortunate if they have a talented photographer whose astute observations keep track of things over all that time. Naturally, such a group project would lend itself to publication, so we can all share in these events that constitute an interesting group history.
This is definitely the case with Karen Marshall’s Between Girls. She has created a record for these girls from New York City as they matured into adulthood that gives us many refreshing personal glimpses into their shared experiences and the nature of a special group cohesion along their journey. The images give us very intimate views of the interactions within the group, as well as impressive individual portraits. We never feel like outsiders, but rather have the feeling that we are genuinely sharing in the lives of these women and their authentic moments, as we are taken from their school days through adulthood and parenting. All the documentary images by Marshall are in black and white, often spread across a double page, and thus feature a directness that invites viewer involvement and empathy. We do not get a sense that the participants are posing or performing for the camera.
The Hero Mother. How to Build a House by Peter Puklus
Review by Kristin Dittrich
The greatest challenge for parents-to-be in starting their own family is to switch back and forth between a wide variety of roles and to combine them harmoniously. For the man, this means that on the one hand he is expected to be a reliable partner, the responsible “head of the family,” a good lover, an above-average wage earner, a role model, the one who teaches skills to his children, and a representative of the family to the outside world, and on the other hand he is also expected to be equipped with many practical and planning skills. It is the same for the woman: with the creation of the family, she takes on various roles, that of mother, partner, cook, cleaning lady, representative of social relations (family friendships), as well as the person mainly responsible for all the emotional matters of all family members. At the same time, having enjoyed good professional training, she is expected not to be inferior to her husband in earning good money. Besides, she should take care of her appearance and sex appeal.
When the Hungarian artist Peter Puklus became a father and got into this situation, he decided to take a closer look at all these role models designated for himself and his partner. Interestingly, he did not create a photobook with images about man and woman in their roles, but only about how HE feels in these roles: defeated, awkward, challenged, sometimes cheerful, more often angry, exhausted, often overwhelmed.
©Peter Puklus, 2021
©Jerry Takigawa, , 2021
Balancing Cultures by Jerry Takigawa
Publisher: Self-Published: Dayo Press Carmel Valley, CA
Review by Wayne Swanson
Gaman: enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience, dignity, and silence.
Shikata ga nai: it cannot be helped.
For the Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II, these terms defined their incarceration. For photographic artist Jerry Takigawa, whose parents and grandparents were among them, “the shadow legacy from these responses is imprinted on my life and my work.”
When Takigawa was growing up, his parents rarely talked about their experiences in the camps, and never in depth. But finding forgotten family photographs unlocked memories and scars of that dark episode in American history. The result is Balancing Cultures.
“Balancing Cultures gave me permission to confront the racism perpetrated on my family that resulted in their confinement in the American concentration camps sanctioned by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942,” writes Takigawa in the book’s Preface. It is followed by a collection of 42 collages that chart his parents’ and grandparents’ journey from confinement to eventual release.
Still Breathing by Julia Vandenoever
Publisher: Self-Published: Gray Sky Press, Colorado
Review by Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing
Sublimation of grief is a partial remedy that artists can use to make life more bearable. Julia Vandenoever, having lost her mother to cancer and her brother to addiction, was able to see connections between her own childhood and that of her own children growing up, with parallel events and feelings allowing her to overcome some of the pain through visual narration. The result is this appealing photobook. As she says, “By recreating my memories, I put my family of origin back together again. Still Breathing is a meditation on loss and remembering. Distilling the chaos was a healing process for me.”
Intergenerational and gestalt therapy also function in a similar manner: by calling to our minds past experiences with those who are gone, and visualizing moments and feelings, we can apply them to the present and to our life that is yet to come. We gain an understanding of the kind of guardianship our folks felt for us and passed down to us, and we realize that we have their approval and guidance for us as we become guardians for our children, our students, our neighbors and friends. Welcome to joyful as well as stressful adulthood…
©Julia Vandenoever, 2021