Roots and Wings is a series of photographs about transitions. I engage the theme of adult children leaving home, while aging mothers stay behind to shoulder new challenges of aging, loss, and love. Using the metaphor of the root to signify home, childhood, and nurture, and the wing to represent leaving the nest for new horizons, I have photographed myself and my adult daughters in an essay about growing up and moving on. While the photographs in this series have deep personal meaning for me, the themes I engage are universal ones.
When my youngest child left home for college five years ago, after many years as a professor of art history I was suddenly compelled to make art. I produced a series of allegorical figural photos with filled with metaphors for my life: eggs and nests and nurture, striding, flying, quests, and journeys. I realized that these fictional photographs, as removed as they seemed from my own experience, were deeply autobiographical.
With Roots and Wings, I decided to confront the theme of transition head-on by photographing myself, my young adult daughters, and a variety of symbolic objects. Although the photographs are not dependent upon each other for their meaning, together they constitute a meditation on the feelings of love and loss, pride and pain that any mother feels as her children become adults. Using theatrical poses and set-ups, I explore the multivalent character of metaphors: a cluster of roots also resembles a broken nest; a rope can be an umbilical cord; a chair and an empty crib simultaneously allude to absence and presence. I am also intrigued by the implied metaphors implicit in actions. “To balance” suggests the fragile transition between childhood and becoming an adult. “To shoulder” reflects the on-going responsibilities of motherhood. “To uproot” is to move on to new challenges and horizons.