The New Normal
Nikon FG, 35 mm, Silver gelatin prints
This project is about my mom. This project is about fallibility. Frailty. Surprises. Fear. Support. Apprehension. Ambiguity. Adulthood. Strength. Uncertainty. Health. Love.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2013, my mom underwent chemotherapy while I lived at home over summer. She continued treatments and finished radiation by Thanksgiving of the same year.
Photography became a way for me to process the treatment and come to terms with our new lives. My parents still live in the same house; they have the same routines and take care of the dog and the cat everyday like they always did. They go to work together, dog included, and they come home together. And yet, something huge and incontrovertible has happened to us all now and we were in the beginning process of getting the bearings of our shifted surroundings. Whether it is shown in the little details, such as a wig hidden in a closet or an uneven chest, cancer has touched our family’s world.
The juxtaposition of the photos from summer during her initial treatment with the photos from Thanksgiving hope to show the way in which cancer has entered my family’s lives and how we encounter it. My discomfort during the summer to authentically take a photo of my mother is shown in the overly posed portraits and the hidden snapshots. It was either something grandiose and sparkling like a marquee on a theater shouting “CANCER” or it was something terrifying that turned me into a little kid peeking behind my mother’s skirt to see. This back and forth of personal struggles to interpret the situation is inherent in these photos. Photographing this experience allowed me to be both “in it” and to take a step back and view the situation from a protective distance.
The second set of photos (shot on 400 ISO and therefore a lighter shade than the summer photos which were shot at 125 ISO and consequently seem to be darker literally and metaphorically) captures the next step in the journey. My mom now has some hair growing back, which my dad astutely called “blonde” instead of “grey.” As a family, we are able to take another step forwards towards the past and how things once were before cancer. There is still discomfort, but this time it is different—coming instead from a place of realizing that life is messy and that things never will go back to the way they were. These photos hope to catch a bit more of our “normal” lives: sitting at the dining room table, and going on walks. The scene is a bit larger as I now can look at my mother’s cancer in a larger context and when I see her, it is no longer consuming her entire identity.
This project is about redefining the “New Normal” and understanding where we as a family have been and where we are going. I hope to continue the project and add to my familial reimagining of what “normal” means and who we are now.
She has since finished treatment and is cancer free for 5 years.