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MOTHERS & SONS

I slipped into a fit of nostalgic melancholy when my oldest child left for college. I hadn’t expected it, though I should have. Before she was born, I knew she would go to college. But I hadn’t anticipated the profound sense of loss at the realization that our relationship had changed forever. Desperate to not let that happen again, I turned my attention to my son, my last child at home finishing high school. I knew that his departure would even more dramatically transform my life. For the first time in 22 years, I would be a mother in name only — the day-to-day practice of caring for my children would be finished.

I dreaded it. So, I picked up my camera and began to photograph him, hoping to preserve this period of our life together.

After capturing a few images, however, I realized something far more interesting than my own fear was happening. I discovered that my son was balancing on a high-wire between two worlds: manhood and boyhood. He doesn’t want to be told what to do; he still wants me to make him breakfast. He gets birthday cards from his Godmother; he sneaks out to be with his friends. He shaves; he leaves his underwear on the floor. It’s a challenge, never knowing which version of my son will join me for dinner. But even harder to contend with is his fierce protection of his privacy. So, I have to “steal” photographs and capture images of him through doors and windows — a recurring theme throughout the book. I’m constantly looking for glimpses of who my son is right now, and who he wants to be. I’ve found someone who doesn’t really know — even if he needs me to believe that he does.

I wanted to know whether or not I was alone in my experience of motherhood, so I expanded the scope of this project to include other women and their sons. I’ve been spending time with them trying to capture those brief moments when emotional reality breaks through the artifice of social and familial norms. I discovered that, while some mothers cede more control in this process than others, everyone grapples with the inevitability of change — and the question of what comes after.

 

This collection of photographs is the first stage in a project that will continue for another year — the build up towards, and arrival at, college. It will eventually include more families from a wider variety of backgrounds and neighborhoods. For now, it is primarily a personal project that documents a few mothers and sons to shed light on what it’s like to

lose someone to the person they’re becoming.

*on going project

© 2020 Renee Harbers

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