From the time I got my first Brownie camera, I was fascinated by photography. I didn’t think I’d ever understand its magic since girls were only supposed to marry and bear children. But when I was twelve, I decided to start photographing mother. She was the person in my life from whom I was the most alienated, and yet about whom I was the most curious.
Many of my conflicts with mother revolved around the issue of beauty. The day after she and daddy went to a party, she would tell me about the men who asked her to dance, which people told her she looked pretty, who said they liked her dress or her hair. Even then, I knew I hated this litany. She always had to be center stage. At my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah party, she wore a sari with a red dot on her forehead. Alison couldn’t decide if she thought it was neat to have such a hip grandmother, or if she resented having the attention taken away from her.
Everyone thought mother was beautiful. I didn’t see it. I photographed her almost constantly until she died, but I almost never exhibited the photographs. I couldn’t. They looked angry. It wasn’t until a couple of years after she died when I started to miss her, that the pictures began to look entirely different to me.
From Bertha Alyce: Mother exPosed. Video by Gay Block, 2003.
Credit: © GAY BLOCK