Photographing a Mother’s Descent Into Mental Illness

Photographer Joshua Lutz has published a book of his own family photographs. So what you say? Hesitating Beauty documents the slide of his mother into mental illness using family photographs.

Image from Hesitating Beauty, © Joshua Lutz

Image from Hesitating Beauty, © Joshua Lutz

Here’s an article at Mother Jones about the book.

The neurologist Oliver Sacks had a book I stopped buying because so many people borrowed it and never gave it back. The book is called the Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. These are case studies of people with organic brain disorders and how their malfunctioning brains threw light onto the mysterious processes inside this wonderful organ. There’s a chapter about a painter whose work became increasingly abstract. Sacks observed that this transformation was not the result of any artistic insight but the result of a disorder the artist was suffering. My mother’s hobby business was puppetry and I remember how she started off making complex and balanced marionettes with rather fine control systems. He art ‘evolved’ into increasingly primitive, ill-made stick figures.

This, too, was a form of documentation.

My favourite image from the book is visible in the gallery. You can find it at the end. It appears to be a photograph on a pin board, probably from the 1970s from the fabrics, frizzy hair and the film stock. For good or ill, I have cemented in the architecture of my mind an image of Margot Kidder, Carrie Fisher and Margaret (Mad Maggie) Trudeau as a ‘look’ from this period. Why? I guess their breakdowns in the 80s were the fodder for weekend news magazine features when I was an adolescent. Their ‘at home in happier days’ snapshots  contrasted with the sensational headlines.

You can purchase this book from Photoeye, BookDummyPress, Amazon and Barnes and Nobel.

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