Last week I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at my friend Justin Hackworth’s 30 Strangers exhibit. Maybe you’ve seen his photos online and wondered what he’s like? He’s great. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with my friends Amy Hackworth, Lisa Clark, and Courtney Kendrick. Maybe you’ve read them online and wondered what they’re like. They’re great.
It was a fun night. Here’s what I read:
Last year the opening of Justin Hackworth’s 30 Strangers exhibit coincided with the premier of Part II of the Deathly Hallows, the 8th and final installment of the Harry Potter movies. Justin asked me to come to his exhibit and I said, “What’s wrong with you? It’s like you don’t know me at all.”
Justin and I did not know each other at all when we met in 2008. I was one of the first 30 Strangers. Justin did a photo shoot my mom, my daughter Maggie, and me. We hit it off—everyone hits it off with Justin. After our photo session I was determined to make him my real friend. I worked hard to ingratiate myself to him and Amy. 5 years later he invited me to his exhibit and I turned him down to see Harry Potter. My efforts paid off! That’s how I treat my real friends.
I actually fancy myself one of Justin’s muses—I feel like I inspire him to great art. Justin Hackworth’s gift is that he makes everyone feel like his muse. But still, I imagine that I am Edie Sedgewick to his Andy Warhol. I’m Mia Farrow to his Woody Allen. Of course, except for our sham marriage and a dozen adopted Asian children, the analogy breaks down.
In terms of Justin’s art as a whole, have you seen his wedding photography? It’s beautiful. The brides radiate. The grooms—who knows what the grooms are doing. It’s all about the bride that day, isn’t it? But the photos you’ll see in the 30 Strangers collection are different. The women you see in these pictures are moms and daughters. You see matriarchs within families. Moms are different from brides. Moms spend more time getting their daughters ready for photo shoots then they spend getting themselves ready.
Motherhood is essentially selfless. I think Justin’s work captures this and says something important about the nature motherhood. Look at his pictures of moms and daughters. They aren’t brides on their wedding days. But they still radiate. They beam at their daughters and they are lovely for having this relationship. They want Justin to take a picture of it.
I wanted Justin to take a picture of me, my daughter, and my mom when I heard about the 30 Strangers project. I was day 7. Here’s what I wrote:
I met a new person yesterday, Justin Hackworth, who took pictures of my mom, my daughter, and me. He’s pretty cool and interesting so I checked him out on Facebook–you know, like you do–and perused his blog. There are tons of photos to look at on his website which is, I suppose, not at all surprising. I clicked on the photos of his own two boys. The pictures are accompanied by simple captions which reminded me of how I felt about my children when they were little. I still have little children, but also bigger ones. They are in grade school. They can be cruel to each other and to me. Sometimes I am harsh and critical of them. Today in particular was a horrible day because I really tried to have fun with them. It’s so much worse to try and fail than to not try at all, don’t you think?
When I’m laying flat on my bed letting the covers puff up around me in hopes that my kids won’t see me and will just go away and leave me alone I suppose there is some kind of subconscious thought that reassures me, “Yes, but if you WANTED to. . . if you had enough energy you would create and execute a scavenger hunt, shoot baskets, make homemade pizza and hello dollies for them and everything would be great!” Well, I did all of that today and it sucked. They fought. They sulked. They fell and got hurt and whined and threw fits. I was a sport and took the dog out into the creek with the kids and then I had to wash her off and she scratched me. I put cloth diapers on Ellen because she’s allergic to disposables and she pooped all over and wiped it on the stairs. I should say, prior to that I got Spicy Cheetos for them as a prize for our basketball-shooting contest. Everything I did came back to bite me–including the Spicy Cheetos. It’s so hard. It’s tiring when they are little and you have to carry them everywhere and it’s tiring when they’re ages 2-11 and you have to do stuff like make dinner. And if Friday Night Lights is any indication of what it’s going to be like when they are in high school, I’m not sure I can take it. It’s awful. And it’s also great. My kids are much better than most other kids and it is still awful and great.
When they are little, you wash them and dress them and they’re just like little extensions of yourself. But by the time they are 11 they are totally separate. You never see them naked. Remember when you were 11? That’s 6th grade, man. I know I still influence and take care of my son, but he’s his own little dude. I was too. I rarely thought of myself as my mom’s daughter even though I loved her. And yet I’m so hung up on my son still–what he wears, what he eats, who he’s friends with, how he acts. Meanwhile I’m becoming more and more peripheral to him. It’s OK though–on days like today I’m glad and can’t wait for them to be gone–but it’s not a very equitable relationship. And they’ll never know until they have kids.
I’m sure my mom agonized over me at times–you know, like you do–and I probably just blew her off. It almost seems like that even in this picture. I’m not even looking at her in the picture Justin took of us! I should be bowing down before her saying, “Thank you! Thank you for cleaning up the orange poop that leaked out of my cloth diaper onto the stairs after I ate those delicious Spicy Cheetos!” But I’m not. And I don’t. And I probably won’t. And my kids won’t either.
I read a novel this year called The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. It’s about a quirky family of performance artists. The parents use their children to create improvisational spectacles. The statement “Kids kill art” is made several times in the novel and anyone trying to paint or write or read with hungry kids or a toddler on your lap may have wondered whether they’ll ever get anything done again. But I don’t think kids kill art. The addition of children—daughters in this case—who are sometimes grown up with their own children gives art meaning. And Justin Hackworth has the pictures to prove it.
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Photo Credit: Kent Miles