Cheryle St Onge's "My Mother, My Atlas"
"My Mother My Atlas is a photographic exchange, portraiture, of the energy of life— the give and take of the familial between mother and daughter who lived side by side on the same New Hampshire farm for decades. Our love was mutual and constant. In 2015 my mother developed vascular dementia, and with that began the loss of her emotions and her memory and the relationship of mother and daughter as we had known it for nearly 60 years.
In my mother’s earlier life, she was a painter and then in more recent decades she began to carve birds. A carving would begin with her vast knowledge of birds, her research and then after whittling away at chunks of wood. My mother would eventually offer up an exquisite painted-out chickadee or barred owl, life-size and life-like. I began to photograph her with any camera in reach—an iPhone or an 8x10 view camera as a distraction from watching her fade away, as a counterbalance to conversation with her about death, as a means to record the ephemeral nature of the moment, to find some happiness and light, and to share the images with others we loved.
Because of the dementia, my mother and I no longer had conversations. But we did still have a profound exchange through photography. She must have recalled our history and the process of picture-making because she brightened up and was always eager and willing to be photographed. My mother did her best and I did mine. And then in turn, I offered up the pictures away to anyone who would look. It was an excruciating form of emotional currency.
My mother died at home On Oct 3. 2020. Time has been excruciatingly measured by that loss. Days into months to reflect on the passing of time, sans her, measured out within a snowy winter bird count, a summer witnessing the goldfinch and wrens eating from the fruit-laden shrubs in her backyard, fall afternoons watching migrating birds pause at her bird bathes and feeders. The expanding and the contracting of time with hope and longing for some semblance of her anywhere." —Cheryle St Onge
My Mother My Atlas is on view at Gallery Kayafas.