main image
by Ishiuchi Miyako

Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2018
© Miyako Ishiuchi

Episode 3 / 2019
First Look

In an attempt to cope with 'a grief surpassing imagination,' Ishiuchi began to photograph her mother's possessions."

Throughout her career, Ishiuchi Miyako has used photography as a means of connecting the past and the present, capturing both the physical and the psychological traces of time's passage. In 2000, Ishiuchi began to photograph her mother, then 84, capturing close-up views of her skin, her thinning hair, and the scars from a cooking accident that covered about a third of her body. Titled 25 Mar 1916, after her mother's birthday, the series marked the beginning of Ishiuchi's reconciliation with her mother, a strong-willed woman who came of age in colonial Manchuria and drove a munitions truck in wartime Japan.

During the first exhibition of that series, Ishiuchi's mother was diagnosed with liver cancer and died within a few months. An only child, her father already gone, the artist was left with her deceased mother's belongings. In an attempt to cope with what she described as "a grief surpassing imagination," Ishiuchi began to photograph her mother's possessions: her lipsticks and lingerie, her shoes and slippers, her dentures, her hairbrush still tangled with strands of her hair. In one photograph, her mother appears in a snapshot from the 1940s, young and fashionable, standing before the open door of a taxi.

Consisting of about forty photographs, including some of the earlier images of her mother's scarred skin, the Mother's series evokes a posthumous intimacy in which objects are transformed into potent repositories of human touch. In 2005 the series was selected for the Japanese pavilion of the Venice Biennale. This year, The Met has acquired a selection of five photographs from the series, both color and black-and-white, which the artist has printed at varying sizes. Some are small, others larger-than-life, much like a child's indelible memories of her mother.

Mia Fineman
Associate Curator
Department of Photographs
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