What can you do when faced with a somber fate? Take pictures. Since December 2017, Charlotte Mano, 28, has been photographing her mother who suffers from an incurable illness. She produced a modest and moving series Thank you mum. Interview.
Fisheye : As a child, you were deprived of the photographic media by your father, so how did you become a photographer?
Charlotte Mano: Photography did in fact arrive late in my life. I was deprived of this media by my father who had found images and videos of his teenage girl wandering naked in the woods… For my 18th birthday, my brother gave me my first camera, and from then everything really began. At 23, after a double major in modern literature and cultural communication, I applied to the Gobelins School contest and passed.
Who are you?
I would say that I am an explorer of the image; I look for its limits and for ways to confuse my audience. In Visions scotopiques, I photographed in the dark, with Portraire, I did portraits that looked like painting, and I played with thermal images revealed by the warmth of a lamp or a hand through the project Blind visions. Photography is a derealisation media, it flirts with magic and the subconscious. I want to point out that if the anagram of image is “magic” (magie in French), it is probably not a coincidence…
Thank you mum is a tribute to your gravely ill mother… Why did you choose photography to transcribe this struggle ?
Over a year ago, my mom fell gravely ill — an inoperable lung cancer. I transcribed this incurable illness in image. In addition to my presence, I needed to do the only thing I can use to control my emotions: to photograph. I felt the need to preserve her, to save our imprints together, of our relationship. Thank you mum is first a work of persistence. My approach to photography has evolved a bit in its form, but not in depth. We can still find the spectral, the pictorial, strangeness, a bit of poetry and confusion.
The project is still in progress. Sometimes it moves forward really fast, and other times it is paused; it all depends on her health status and my mindset. I think it will last well beyond the end, when sickness will end up defeating her.
How did your mother perceive this project?
It happened naturally for my mom. I did not need to talk about it as a “project”. We knew about the urgency and the importance of sharing.
How do you generally proceed with your mother during the shootings?
Usually, the idea comes to me suddenly. I ask her to pose in the nude with her chemotherapy tube or near an abandoned field where I used to play as a child. It is quite simple with her. It is as if she knew in advance the evocative power of images.
Did this photographic experience nurture your mother-daughter relationship?
Although we were already close before her illness, Thank you mum has allowed us to grow even closer in an indescribable way. We are very connected. With this Damocles sword hanging above our heads, we live things differently, on edge, and more intensely. It’s strange. Sometimes, certain images leave a shadow of a doubt: we forget who is healing whom, it is disturbing…
Have new photographic practices emerged?
This project has allowed me to work without any protocol nor any arrangement, which is new to me. We work exclusively with our emotions, our pain and our strength, without any rendering goals. This process is truly liberating. Thank you mum has also led me to understand that photography maybe could simply not express everything, which is why I also use molding and video making to fill this sensation of insufficiency.
What is your relation with time in this project?
When faced with this illness, there is a countdown that is difficult to estimate. Everything can tip over very fast. As I began this series in December 2017, a feeling of urgency prevailed. I was so scared of losing her. Then, months passed. The urgency is still here, but the fear slowly gets tamed. Lately, I have been doing less images. Sometimes, I just want to take advantage of the present moment, without my camera.
A word regarding the title ?
Thank you mum is a modest way of showing how grateful I am for my mum, before saying goodbye. The use of English is also a way to get rid of the discomfort. Very often, when you lose someone out of nowhere, you can’t help but feel guilty… You feel like you haven’t said enough times how much you loved them, how amazing they were… In a way, I am “lucky” to be able to give her a last farewell..
What have you learned from working on this project?
I have learned to know myself: my vulnerability and the things that really matter. I have become more loving and more lenient. I also think I have felt like I was truly becoming a woman during this moment.
A picture you are particularly proud of?
I do not feel pride toward those images. But I would say that the one that represents the series and our feelings with the most accuracy is the one where a bird is resting on my mother’s naked chest. This photo represents protection, vulnerability, nature and motherhood…
What does your mother think of your pictures ?
What is curious is that she had never really seen the images before the exhibition at the gallery of the Château d’eau in Toulouse, last October. It was a shock for her to see herself in big format on the walls. She finally understood. It was the first time in her life that she was in the center too. And of course, we succumbed to our tears…
Three words to describe this series ?
Love, epidermis, and universal.
© Charlotte Mano