The Family of Women: Voices across the Generationsby Carolyn Jones
Through a series of powerfully honest photographs and unmediated personal narratives, The Family of Women explores the emotional inheritance that passes back and forth among great-grandmothers,
Portraits of remarkable women--and the grandmothers, mothers, and daughters who shape their lives--emerge through a series of powerful photographs and personal narratives.
Through a series of powerfully honest photographs and unmediated personal narratives, The Family of Women explores the emotional inheritance that passes back and forth among great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters.
Photographer Carolyn Jones has focused her frank and revealing lens on the women in some thirty American families and listened to stories told through laughter and tears. A South Dakota grandmother describes the experience of carrying her daughter's twins in her own womb. A still-grieving mother who lost her daughter in the terrorist bombing aboard Pan Am flight 103 talks of the scholarship she set up in her daughter's name. A Connecticut woman tells of traveling to Hungary to adopt two little girls and returning home with a family of five orphaned children. A WNBA star points proudly to the grandmother who taught her that women can do anything.
With each moving portrait and candid narrative, The Family of Women celebrates the complicated, infuriating, fascinating, and everlasting bond that exists among women who, literally or figuratively, have given birth to one another.
Other Details: 74 duotone illustrations 144 pages 9 x 9" Published 1999
steel legs. I just kept looking at the photo of her in that article, trying to imagine what it would be like to go through life with that challenge. Was Aimee fundamentally different from me? What was it like for her mother? How in the world did she raise Aimee to face life with such spirit? I wanted to talk to her mother and her grandmother and find out what magical, secret, mysterious set of tools gave them the ability to deal with Aimee's disability so beautifully. I wanted to incorporate those tools into my own life. Aimee was one of the first people I photographed for this book, and it was a great way to start the journey. I remember her mom looking at me and asking me why I was interviewing her-she thought the story was supposed to be about Aimee. She thought she hadn't done anything more special than raise her daughter the way she herself had been raised.
Soon I found myself talking to mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers about conflicts and issues that they had had with their mothers as young women. I found commonalities that I had not expected. We are, after all, all daughters. The details may differ, but in each generation women struggle with breaking away and defining themselves, and you know what? Like me, many of these women chose different paths than their mothers had.
I had the opportunity to go into women's homes, sit in their kitchens, and ask them about important moments in their lives; then I would talk to their daughters, sisters, mothers, and/or grandmothers about the same moments. I wept in more women's kitchens than I can tell you. In Chicago I photographed Brenda Eheart, a professor at the University of Illinois. Brenda saw a problem with the way that her community dealt with foster children and came up with a bold, brilliant solution. Brenda's daughter told me that when she was in college she walked by a newsstand and there was her mom on the front page of the New York Times; she felt so proud. Peggy Shepard, who has devoted her life to public service in Harlem, has a daughter who was equally proud when Peggy was running for office. These young women showed me that giving our daughters a chance to be proud of our accomplishments is a gift.
I traveled to Wyoming to photograph "Grandma Jan" Youren. Together we drove to her daughter's ranch. As I listened to Jan during that three-hour drive through the Rockies, I thought that as different as our lifestyles are-and I mean these women were in a barn welding when we pulled up-we were not so very different from one another. You work, you look for happiness, and you try to raise your kids the best you can.
My assistant Chris and I spent a weekend on a Navajo reservation. We sat in a hogan while Mary Begay made fried bread and spoke to us through her daughter, who translated her words. Everything about the place was foreign to me-the texture of the land, the color of the sky, the floor of the hogan, and the smell of the sweet bread. I could not understand the language and yet I felt great similarities with these women. Their struggles were different from mine, and yet there were many common threads.
In South Dakota I met Arlette Schweitzer. I had read an article about her some years earlier and knew that she had given birth to her own grandchildren. But whatever preconceived notions I might have had about this woman went out the window when she said, "You know, I didn't ever know what all the fuss was about; it would have been the same if my daughter Christa needed a kidney." Arlette and I must have gone through an entire box of Kleenex as she told me her story. She must have thought I was crazy sitting there weeping while she opened her heart. How women can love! How deep their emotions run, how very complicated they are. What boundaries they are willing to cross, and what chances they are willing to take for their children.
One of the most powerful experiences on my photographic journey was meeting Aphrodite Tsairis, who had lost a daughter in the terrorist bombing of PanAm flight 103. I wanted to meet Aphrodite because she had taken her grief and made something positive come out of it. Not only did she effect changes in the way victims of terrorism are dealt with, but she created a foundation in honor of her daughter to keep Alexia and what she stood for from being forgotten. I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to hear her story and meet her mother and her surviving daughter, Ariadne. Women have the uncanny ability to take their hurt and pain and turn it into an avenue for helping others who have gone through something similar.
Throughout my work on this book I kept feeling as though I was bringing home little jewels of understanding. Various things that women all over the country said to me stuck with me, and I would come home and try to incorporate them into my everyday life with my girls. Insights, small gestures, day-to-day ways of dealing with life. Judy Wicks told me that she was always so happy to see her mom at the front door whenever she came home. I asked her mom how she had pulled that off, and she said that she never judged Judy, she always respected her decisions, and she listened. It seemed so simple, but I came away from that visit wondering if I was listening to Zoe enough, so I made a concerted effort to talk less and really try to find out about her life. Artist Betye Saar told me what it was like to make art with three little girls around her studio. Instead of separating the girls from trays of chemicals, she taught them what they could touch and what was dangerous, and she let them be a part of what she did. I have a darkroom in my home, and up until that moment my four-year-old daughter had not been permitted to set foot in that room. In retrospect I realize that she must have wondered what in the world went on in there. I came back from my visit and discovered that at age four Mercer was eminently capable of knowing what she could and could not touch; now she can help me with wet prints. It is an activity we can do together rather than something that Mom does alone.
When I met Emmy Laybourne she told me that her grandmother Gwen Bond used to give her grandchildren a dollar for every line of Shakespeare they could commit to memory. Gwen talked to me about how important she thought it was for children to be involved in the arts. As soon as I returned to New York I took Mercer, then three years old, to the Museum of Modern Art. We spent the day looking at Monet's Water Lilies. I saw things in that museum through Mercer's eyes that I had never seen before.
For scheduling reasons it could not be helped that I was in Chicago photographing Dr. Evelyn ("Eye") Golden on the day that Mercer turned four. Here I was doing a book on mothers and daughters, and I had left my own daughter on her birthday. It broke my heart. It seemed to epitomize one of the issues I was exploring: how do we resolve the conflict of working and being with our children? As I was leaving, Eye took my hands in hers, looked me in the eye, and said "Enjoy being a mother." I realized on the plane ride home that I was thirsty for Mercer.
I had so many questions that I wanted answers to in making this book. But I learned that there are no big answers--there are only ways to make each day better, to treasure each day more. I had hoped that I would meet someone and say, "Okay, she's figured it out, I am going to do it that way." But no, each of us has to figure it out our own way. I wanted to come out of this knowing what the right things to do were. Instead I learned different things. I learned that whether or not we work our children are influenced by what kind of women we are. If they see us helping others they will grow up caring. If they see us fulfilling our dreams they will grow up having dreams. If we cherish them as children, they will cherish their own children. I realize that the women included here are some of the most extraordinary women I may ever have the honor to meet. And their daughters are opening even more doors. It is, I think, like a great filtering-out process of what works and what doesn't. In every instance I was impressed with the daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters of the women I met.
I am so lucky to have Zoe and Mercer in my life. Of course it looks like Mercer and I are indeed cut from the same cloth, but I will use everything I have learned from the women in this book to make sure that I listen to her and that I don't judge her. Hopefully we can keep the lines of communication open so that if I do judge her, she can tell me.
When I think back to the apprehension I felt on the day I found out that I was going to have a girl, I have to marvel at how powerful this relationship has turned out to be. My feelings have no beginning and no end. I had no idea that I could love like this. I had no idea that I could be so enchanted watching someone learn to eat a popsicle. I had no idea that I would spend so much time overwhelmed with emotion. Whatever path the rest of my life takes and whatever else I am able to achieve, raising my daughters will always be the accomplishment of which I am the most proud.
Perhaps at the end of this journey, it is my own company that I have grown more comfortable with. I have a found a depth and complexity in women that is both mysterious and beautiful. I will always enjoy the company of men, but now I relish being a part of a whole. I cherish the ability to find common ground with other women, and I am prouder than ever to be a part of the family of women.
New York City
- Abbeville Press, Incorporated
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- Product dimensions:
- 9.33(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.79(d)
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The Family of Women explores the emotional inheritance that passes back and forth between generations of women. Photographer Carolyn Jones has focused her frank and revealing lens on the women in some 30 American families and listened to stories told through laughter and tears. With each moving portrait and candid narrative, The Family of Women celebrates the complicated, infuriating, fascinating, and everlasting bond that exists among women who, literally or figuratively, have given birth to one another.
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Carolyn James photographs are frank and revealing, and they are often more powerful than words in acknowledging the complicated, everlasting connection women family members have with each other.
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