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Intimate Self-Portraits of Mother and Daughter

aglae bory photography

I fell in love with this work a while ago when I was just starting to think about making my daughter the subject of my new series, Edelweiss. I got the book for Christmas and found the portraits entirely compelling. The light, the colour tones, the subject matter, the intimacy, the tension, the domestic, the carefully calculated composition and the mirroring or reflection of the daughter on her mother and vice versa. I wanted to find out more from someone who successfully made a series on motherhood that was neither corny or clichéd but also to go into more depth about the projects scope as a piece of photographic art.

By retaining control of the cable release and including it in the images Aglaé both slows down our reading and determines the mood of the images. Locations, positions and clothing are not left to chance but down to the deliberation of the artist. By making us aware of this control Aglaé reminds us that she is a creator, not simply responding to daily happenings but in some sense performing them for us, allowing us to see what she wants us to see. In this simple but crucial act she confuses the viewer with what is fact. She makes us question what is really there each day and wonder why she has chosen to include it in the frame. What reality has she decided to let us see and therefore why? What does she want to communicate through these images?

I love the very composed and deliberate nature of these images that take place in the everyday. The restrained background noise doesn’t inhibit the reading, in fact every component adds to it, like part of a mis-en-scene familiar to cinema where the director uses props and locations to enhance the essence of the story. From the surrounding elements, like fruit, play parks, painting utensils, we can deduce information about the existence of the subjects but they aren’t just clues, they are also symbols, characteristics and idiosyncrasies of their life together. Things that we all have equivalents of. What is your apartment block? Face-mask? Sleep routine? This project is about one mother and her daughter but it is also about all of us. What are your childhood memories? What do you do or not do with your children? What would you like to do or have done?

Aglaé Bory is based in Paris. Her series Correlations has been exhibited widely and received honourable recognition including second place in the Terry O’Neill Award and inclusion in the Voies Off Festival.

aglae bory photography

What excites you about photography and why did you begin taking pictures?
‘It was like a call. When I was 15, I was impressed by the mystery of photography. I think I felt the tension and the strength created by the frozen frame. Through photography I discovered one can look at things and people with emotion. Now I still love the power of the frozen frame and the relationship it has with time.’

aglae bory photography

Who / what are your influences?
‘There are many photographers I love, like Jeff Wall, Rineke Dijkstra, Diane Arbus, Paul Graham, Taryn Simon… They are all working between reality, document and fiction. I relate to this approach very much.

‘I discovered photography through Edouard Boubat, Arnaud Claas, Henri Cartier-Bresson and other classics of black and white photography, but with high emotion. They taught me how photography can speak and create meaning, through centering and especially through off-camera which has been very important for me. Now though my photographic language has moved far from these photographers.

‘I only take color photographs and the definition of my way of taking photographs could be “decided moment”, not the Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”.*

‘Apart from this I find important influences in literature, like in Marguertite Duras’s work. She used direct and strong words, and wrote with an awareness of the necessity to express things using specific words.

‘Photography shows and freezes things, I try to see what is invisible, to show what is hidden, to freeze what is volatile. I especially love doing this because photography is dealing with tangible reality so I try to explore the power of photography by approaching it’s boundaries as a medium.’

aglae bory photography

What is your favourite aspect of Corrélations?
‘The process was very important and very exciting. But so was the topic. There were many things to include in this work, and I’m really happy to have integrated them all together.

‘First, this work was a necessity. I strongly felt the compulsion to make these images. I thought it was impossible that all these ‘small’ but determinant moments should be left untold. I wanted to show all those little intimate and harmless things that we are repeating every day and which we choose to call life. I felt the need to photograph them in order to be displayed, to be seen and to be looked upon as an attempt to make an inventory of time.

‘In all my work I try to create meaning with images. That’s why I’m a photographer.

‘The process was also very important. The cable release in my hand is visible, so the moment-of-shooting itself is visible too. I like this. These photographs are self-portraits, so I was ‘blind’. I had to imagine the postures, to see not with my eyes, but with my mind. It helped me to go inside myself and reach interiority.

aglae-bory photography

The closeness of your relationship with your daughter is very apparent in your work. When I’m photographing my own daughter sometimes she resists the camera and I have to find the balance between respecting her desires and getting a good shot. What is your experience of this and how did you overcome or strike a balance?
‘When I started this work she was 2. So she saw this like a game. I asked her to stay still, which was not that easy at first! But she quickly felt that there was something strange, something that was important for me. So she brought herself to do it, to be serious, and to listen to what I said to her. Then she discovered that something was happening between her, me and the camera.

‘She resisted sometimes but more because she had to stop what she was doing (playing) than because she didn’t want to be photographed.

‘When I was taking the pictures, I didn’t speak to her with the same tone of voice and she sensed that. At this moment I was more a photographer than her mother. Creating this sort of distance was important to separate the work and the family life. I think it also helped this work to be what I really wanted it to be: not trivial but emotional and photographic.

aglae-bory photography

This project is not solely about you and your circumstances and motherhood, there is a wider narrative at play. What are your biggest hopes for your viewer?
‘This work is, more than anything, a photographic series which questions the photographic rules and roles. The photographer produces the images before choosing which one he wants to show. This is an artistic gesture which exists to establish a dialogue through ideas, images and the photographic tool. Even though the camera is a tool which takes it’s aim on reality, it does not work of it’s own accord. It is a tool to establish relationships.

‘The question to ask oneself is what kind of relationship is to be established, through which medium and for what purpose?

‘The work relies on personal aspects which I hope add meaning and reveal the potential and the peculiarities of photography. I questioned the relationship between time, space and the people and I wrote this relationship with the light. The light brings a timelessness to these moments. Once chemically condensed and stripped of insignificance, they stop being the substratum of everyday life and acquire the status of archetypes.

‘With this fictionalised approach the viewer can easily identify fragments of their own experience, recognising parts of their own lives. Ideally though, they would abandon personal perspectives and embrace the collective flux of memories.’

aglae bory photography

What does your daughter think of the photographs?
‘She likes them.

‘But I let her stay away from what the pictures I take end up becoming. She knows there have been exhibitions and she saw the book, but we don’t often speak about it. I explained it to her in simple terms and she understands that is an artistic work, not a family album. This is my business so it was important for me that she should stay in her child’s world. On the other hand, I think we will discuss it again when she is older, because there are personal emotions and feelings involved.’

aglae bory photography

What advice would you give to women balancing a photography career and bringing up young children?
‘I think it’s not easy sometimes because we have to balance it with family life and because being a photographer, as artists, doesn’t stop at a fixed hour in the day. It’s not a job that has schedules. And for creating projects, ideas, pictures, we need time, we need sometimes to be alone, to be free of obligations.

‘But women are still managing the everyday life and this is true for any woman doing any kind of job. The bond with children is indefectible and it is not easy to find a good way to manage all these different feelings. But the more the children grow up the easier it becomes. These situations can be interesting for our work because we are faced by a lot of emotions that feed our creativity and make us stronger.’

aglae-bory photography

What impact has the series had on your relationship with each other?
‘We did something unusual which questioned the bond that exists between a woman and her child. It was an experience of life. Now things have been said and many things are easier to feel. It was like a silent discussion.’

Are you working on anything new / what’s next for you?
‘Yes, I’m working on different projects. One about “Inner sees” and another one in my native land, both exploring the relationship between landscape and emotions. And I continue my work in the press, for newspapers and magazines. However I do continue to show “Corrélations” in different places.’

aglae bory photography

This post was contributed by photographer Sharon Boothroyd via her photo blog, Photoparley.

  • Gar Anthony Haywood

    Okay, call me an ass, but as beautiful as these photos are, if there’s any joy to be found here — any actual celebration of a mother’s special bond with her female child — I fail to see it. Were I a young woman contemplating motherhood, after seeing these photographs, I think I’d pass.

    I get that this set was not intended to simulate a series of ads for Playskool toys, but Ms. Bory’s obvious longing in every shot to be either a) dead; or b) somewhere, anywhere else other than “here,” playing (single?) mother to a beautiful little girl, sucks all the life out of every scene. The work may be technically brilliant, but conceptually, its as fresh and life-affirming as a dead puppy.

    A fitting title for Ms. Bory’s book would be “Young Mother Desperately Overwhelmed by the Demands of Raising a Daughter With Whom She Has Little or No Obvious Affection.”

    Damn.

  • http://amandawatson-will.com Amanda

    I can see what the first commenter is saying. The mother looks exhausted and depressed – post-natal depression perhaps. In a couple of photos both mother and child are engaged in a shared activity (reading, the sandpit) but they never make eye contact. It’s rather disturbing, but perhaps it is just this selection of photos. Nevertheless, there is a rather desperate feeling of a young mother going through the motions. It’s challenging work that is incredibly far from most depictions of mother and child.

  • Dana Fontaine

    Gar Anthony Haywood, I mean no offense by this, but perhaps your male perspective interprets these images differently than a woman who is a mother would.

    Undeniably, without knowing the story behind a collection of worked curated by an artist, each person’s perception of art is formed through the context of their own lives and for that reason the internal story assigned to the image will be as individual as those who witness it.

    Having said that, as a mother, I see the images not as being distant or remorseful, but more of the glimpses of the in-between moments of mothering.

    When you are the mother of a single child there are no siblings to engage the child and as a result the focus rests solely between the two of you. Your days become a dance as you try and balance your child’s needs with their desires, the mundane chores of the day to day, the joyful moments, new experiences while holding on to who you are as a woman. It is you and them. It is beautiful, rewarding and difficult beyond words.

    Sometimes your child will be tender and engaging, sometimes your child will exercise their will and push the limits of expectations, sometimes your child will want to withdraw and be beyond the point of consolation, sometimes your heart will fill with pride at something your child has created or when they are learning a new skill.

    As each emotion and action transitions to another, we as mothers, take a moment to breathe. To inhale and bear witness to the moment. To hold onto it and give it its distinct signature so it does not blend with all the other moments in all the other days.

    It is in these breaths that we see our children for who they are and realize what we, as women have grown into. I feel that it is these quiet moments that Ms. Bory pays homage to in her poetic series, Corrélation.

  • Gar Anthony Haywood

    Dana Fontaine: No offense taken. However, I don’t think a male perspective is required to recognize the unrelenting negativity in these images. And context is not going to change the fact that Ms. Bory looks like a woman CONSUMED by remorse in every single shot.

    Everything you say is true about motherhood, and the special connection mothers often share with their daughters. But in choosing to confine this series to ONLY those moments in a mother’s life when she is CLEARLY finding little joy in being in the company of her little girl, the message sent is extremely limiting and, quite frankly, somewhat pathetic.

    If, in fact, it was Ms. Bory’s intent to deliver that very message—that single motherhood can occasionally be a total drag—then let’s judge the work accordingly. But holding this series up as some deeply moving statement about the beauty and complexities of the mother/daughter dynamic is giving it way more credit for empathy than it deserves.

  • Lacey

    I think in all art everyone has their own perspective. No two people feel or see the same thing. As a single mother I see in these images the exhaustion of motherhood but also the strength that a mother has. The strength to live each day for their child. To take care of them, enjoy them and the simplicity that they can also bring. Like the picture playing in the sand box, in the bathtub or just reading a book. I find myself playing or staring at my kids with the same look on my face. It is not depression. It is I am feeling exhausted on the outside but inside you are staring at them with the amazement that you created this and how much more wonderful could they be. I could stare at my children for hours. I sit there wondering what is going on in their heads, how did they learn that and how could I create something that takes so much energy out of me!

    Maybe I am seeing this the wrong way the artist saw it. But the more I stare at them this is the way it makes me feel.

  • Amanda

    I have to agree, as a mother, that I don’t find the complete absence of joy resonates at all with me. I find this set sad, and wish that this mother and daughter had some connection, so moment of happiness or connection. Sure, motherhood is challenging at times, but it is often exhilarating, amazing, enthralling, and to me, completely joyful. These pictures leave me feeling sad and hopeless for this pair. Yes, I have a supportive partner and I’m sure that makes all the difference, however I think even my friends who are single mothers do find joy in day-to-day mothering. Not every moment, but it’s there, in the cracks in the mundane.