Joy Christiansen Erb

Portrait of a Mother

This initial exploration into Portrait of a Mother focuses on the subjects of motherhood, family and illness. These photographs examine the changing body and lifestyle of a new mother and the disease and altered body of a sick child through self-portraiture and personal narrative.

On December 23, 2009, I gave birth to my first child Emmet. When he was just thirteen days old he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that may require surgery. He was immediately put on several heart medications and visited a cardiologist once a week for routine tests. From that day on our lives were changed.

When Emmet was three months old, we were told that he was in congestive heart failure and must undergo open-heart surgery to repair his heart defects. He spent a total of thirteen days in the hospital over two visits and underwent two heart catheterizations and a six-hour heart surgery. I documented his time in the hospital to be a record for him when he grew older and for me to process what was going on in front of me. It was terrifying to see my child cut open, sedated, undergoing continual medical procedures and in pain. Yet behind the lens of the camera, I could be an outsider witnessing the events with a photographer’s eye. Since his surgery, I have continued to photograph his healing body.

This work balances between documentary and pre-visualized photographs of still lives and portraits including images recording hospital medical procedures and self-portraits confronting the camera. Many of the images reflectively look at the body and the way both mother and son mirror one another. The images move back and forth between color and black and white as well as documentary and constructed. I use singular images, diptychs and triptychs as a way to explore and expand the ongoing narrative of Portrait of a Mother.

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