The Image: James Friedman, "Mom and me"

© James Friedman, Mom and me, 1971

James FriedmanMom and me (1971) is a photograph dense with personal history and central to two of my projects: “Self-Portrait with Jewish Nose Wandering in a Gentile World” and “1,029,398 Cigarettes.” On the right side of the photograph is part of a screen door. Sixteen years earlier, from the inside of our house, I had walked by that door and noticed through its gauzy screen a violently moving object tied to a pole in our backyard. What I saw was our family's dog, Major, a Bedlington terrier, thrusting back and forth emitting high-pitched shrieking noises. Holding a dinner plate, I stopped, looked into our yard and saw Major, already near death, as his shrieks became whimpers and then silence as he died. Standing next to the pole laughing and proudly claiming responsibility for the lynching were our neighbors—two anti-Semitic teenage German brothers. The lynching inspired me to an act of defiance on the very next day when I felt compelled to take a photographic self-portrait. Although I didn't realize it until many years later, that self-portrait, made when I was five years old, was the initial photograph in my lifelong series “Self-Portrait with Jewish Nose Wandering in a Gentile World.”

Mom and me was made a year after my father had died suddenly at age 47 while playing tennis. Both my mother and I still were grappling with his death and our ongoing photographic collaboration seemed to provide comfort for us. In 1959, I had taken the first photograph in “1,029,398 Cigarettes,” an extended, collaborative portrait of my mother that continued until her passing in 1990. But after my father’s death, my mother, camera-shy by nature, demonstrated uncommon generosity in agreeing to let me photograph her more frequently. Looking at the photograph now, I am struck by how alike we look and how our body postures are nearly identical. The photographs of my mother made during a period of over 30 years continue to connect us.