In 1996 I will turn fifty. I think about this often. I have never been one to hide my age, but regardless, I feel that this will be a milestone of some proportion. Because I am a baby boomer, there has been some safety in numbers. More women are asking questions out loud about aging. Some artists are providing images of this process. My work has always been autobiographical, so it was inevitable that I would explore/exploit my aging body.
I began a new series of self-portraits in the spring of my forty-seventh year. Curious, I tried to find photographs of my mother and grandmothers at the same age. What were they doing and what had they accomplished by their forties? How do I look compared with them? It was a challenge to locate these images. My grandmothers simply did not seem to like having their pictures taken. When I was a young girl I noticed their resistance to the camera. Pictures of them were taken at major events in their children's lives, at their births or graduations. Very few pictures of my mother in her forties exist because she was too busy raising five children. More images appear of her in her sixties once my father retired and began to take more photographs. In her seventies now, she resists being photographed without permission and preparation.
Many of the images in this book were made in May 1994 in North Carolina at Penland School. I first went to Penland in 1967 to study printmaking and have returned many times to teach short summer courses in photography. This time I arranged a stay of two weeks with access to the photography studio so that I could concentrate on my own work. Because the school was between sessions there were only a few residents around and it was unusually quiet. On days when I didn't see anyone, I talked aloud to myself.
Though I have returned to these hills for over twenty-seven years, I had never witnessed spring in Carolina. The hills, roads, and buildings at Penland have remained a constant in my life, but the trees are showing their age. They have grown taller of course, and many are scarred and tangled. Some have been pruned back heavily, but most have been left entirely on their own, choked with poison ivy vines as thick as arms, with dead branches dangling.During this visit, time was measured differently. The days seemed incredibly long or went by unnoticed. Clocks were unnecessary. I cooked when I wanted to eat and slept when I felt tired. Without the normal distractions of my life, I felt the now.
This sense of the present was a present.Next