The Family of Women: Voices across the Generations

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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 ...

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1999 Hardcover New This book is new. DJ shows light edge/shelfwear and 3/4" tear. Portraits of remarkable women--and the grandmothers, mothers, and daughters who shape their ... lives--emerge through a series of powerful photographs and personal narratives. Read more Show Less

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Overview

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.

Carolyn Jones

New York City

September 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Cassandra West
[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.
Chicago Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780789203380
  • Publisher: Abbeville Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/10/1999
  • Pages: 143
  • Product dimensions: 9.33 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Read an Excerpt

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.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction

The Families

Acknowledgments

Index

Author Biography: Photographer and documentary filmmaker Carolyn Jones, the photographer of Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS, has been taking photographs since the age of thirteen. She studied photography at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and worked as an assistant to the photographer Hiro before opening her own studio in 1981. Her work has appeared in Esquire, Lear's, Interview, Mirabella, and Harper's Bazaar. Her documentary film Women . . . on Family aired on PBS on Mother's Day, 1993. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

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Introduction

Aimee Mullins is a scholar, an athlete, and a model. She’s also a bilateral amputee. But her mother, Bernadette, her grandmother, Christine, and eight aunts brought her up to believe that she was not disadvantaged. She’s already set records in college-level track; now, says Aimee, “I want to do projects that challenge people’s idea of beauty.”

Aimee Mullins, born 1975
Bernadette Mullins, born 1945
Christine Anthony, born 1917

Aimee Mullins:
I was born without a fibula on both legs. My toes were turned in and I had two on one foot, three on another – they were webbed and deformed. I could not support my body weight, and the doctor said I would not walk, that I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I was amputated on my first birthday. I learned to walk, run, bike, ice skate just like everyone else because I was so young. When you’re young there is no notion that you cannot do something. You know no limits.

Bernadette Mullins:
We were unprepared. I lost faith in the doctor because he told me everything was fine. I was worried about her – what would become of her. She was a beautiful baby.

Aimee:
I was amputated below the knees. This is key because with knee function the only joint I don’t have is my ankle. Just walking down the street you can’t tell because I have knees.

Bernadette:
In kindergarten for show and tell, her first one, she took off her legs. She wanted to prove that they were not wood. That was Aimee. No one knew she was going to do it.

Aimee:
I was fine until I hit puberty. I became more aware then, but I was always the class clown. I had the best grades, but I’d do anything to get a laugh. Sixth through ninth grades were awkward. Those years are hard enough as it is, but going through body image-identity and finding friends leaves a question about what people really think about you. My parents encouraged me to be self-reliant and try all sports – try whatever I wanted.
Bernadette:
Her attitude was, it’s not my problem, it’s theirs. She has educated us and taught us our shortcomings.

Aimee:
People say, “What should I call you?” I say, “Just call me Aimee.” “Handicapped” is definitely out. Some of these words serve as a way to separate us from normality.

Christine Anthony:
Aimee doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She just gets on with it.

Aimee:
I am lucky to have such a large, supporting family. There was always a get-together, and there was always a section hooting and ho9llering in the audience. What I find most special about my family is their ability to give. From my grandmother, I get strength. The woman absolutely embodies it. Every once in a while I stop and look at her and realize everything is because of her. All these people are here because of her. She is so cool. She did some modeling when she was sixteen; she was a stunning woman and apparently my grandfather was the catch of the town. She got married and she had all these children.

Christine:
I got married very young. My mom didn’t approve. There was no turning back. I couldn’t come home and complain or anything. I tried to make it work – make it a home. There was never a dull moment in my life. I worked, even with eleven children. I worked in factories. There was a time, after my tenth child, that I had two jobs.

Aimee:
Grandma is one of the most amazing things that’s happened to me. The woman had paid her dues. If there’s someone who knows the whole story, it’s her. She had nine girls. Nine. God definitely knew what was going on when she had all these kids. Now we’re all here, and everyone is successful in their own right, and they’re all so smart and all do different things. We’ve got something for everyone – doctors, lawyers, a chiropractor…now we need a dentist.

Bernadette:
We are not a perfect family by any means. But there is a network. We are all there for one another. Love and friendship are what I got from my mom, and that’s what I am trying to pass along to Aimee.

Christine:
Never be ashamed of your background and who you are; that’s what I tried to teach my children. And always give your best – don’t be a quitter.

Aimee:
If you had told me when I was in high school that I would be in LIFE magazine or get to do some of the things I’ve been doing, I think I would have flipped. Now I think that anything’s possible.

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