the photoshooter's journey from taking to making




WEEKS AGO, DURING WHAT WOULD PROVE TO BE MY FINAL VISIT TO MY MOTHER, my sister, who had long served as her in-house caregiver, presented me with something of a family relic; a small porcelain figurine of Pinocchio that I had not seen since my toddler days. I still don’t know if she simply found it in some cranny of the family home, or whether Mother, who certainly knew she was gravely ill, had somehow deputized her to give it to me. I didn’t ask any questions, but quickly secured the little guy in my shaving kit, where he would nap on the way back home.

I’m even unclear as to how the little statue, just over an inch high, even made it into our first house, that is, the first house I remember as a child. Mother liked to post it on the packed soil around various potted plants in our living room, and may have even moved it around as a sort of game for me. I had a tendency to want to own Pinocchio for myself, and frequently slipped him into my small hand, studying his little face, his red gloves, his green Tyrolean cap. And now, after all these years, here he was back again, staring at me from a curio shelf, a souvenir of a life that was all shadows and a Mother that was about to become, well, something that dwelled in them.


In these first days following her death, the figurine has come to symbolize something that I wanted my camera to help…explain. I wanted an image that captured the magic and mystery of the object, to make it appear suspended in space and time, floating between memory and prophecy. The fact that the figure was of a toy who yearned to be a real boy struck me as mystical in a way, and I dreamed of making a picture that suggested that. But the mystery remains. Why does he return to me now, at the nexus of an irretrievable past and an unknowable future? Am I the toy that once again must aspire to becoming “real”? And can I, or anyone, ever make a picture of all that?

In these first few strange days without my mother in the world, even though I was blessed to have her for nearly a century, all things seem equally real and unreal. Maybe this little toy/boy has come to me just now for some reason.

Or maybe it’s mere sentiment, fantasy.

Either way, I’m glad he’s home.


One response

  1. Jamie Watkins


    May 24, 2023 at 4:11 PM

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