What began as a warning to others about the dangers of smoking turned into a tender collaboration between a parent and her child.
James Friedman was 9 years old when he began photographing his mother, Dorothy. She was 11 years old when she smoked her first cigarette. They both continued with their respective fixations until the day Dorothy died.
Friedman’s series “1,029,398 Cigarettes” chronicles his mother’s life over the course of 30 years and over a million cigarettes. The photos show the corrosive effects of chain-smoking in real time, spanning from before Dorothy was diagnosed with emphysema to her final days in the hospital.
But more aptly, the images capture a son’s perspective of his imperfect but exceptional mother, a woman he described as caring, brilliant, talented and sophisticated. A woman who wrote poetry and read almost a book a night. “She could speak about almost any topic in great depth,” Friedman told The Huffington Post. “What I got most from her, I think, was her sense of intuition. Feeling comfortable embracing intuition in relation to creativity.”
Friedman initially began photographing his mother to become closer to her. “There wasn’t a lot of affection in our family,” he recalled, “not a lot of connection. For me the camera was a way to form some kind of communication. Photography was a way for me to communicate; the world seemed to make more sense when I was looking at it through a camera. It still does.”
At first, Dorothy was resistant to being photographed, and would often cover her face to avert the camera’s gaze. As time went on, and Dorothy came to sense how important photography was to her son, she gradually granted him permission to shoot her more and more often. “Once the process began, she, in my view, let herself be transformed,” Friedman said. “I think she enjoyed it, the collaborative performance. It helped us understand each other and communicate better.”
In his early photos, Friedman captures his mother as a stylish young woman, posing in 1960s fur-lined dresses and strings of pearls. In one particularly striking image, Dorothy stretches her arms sideways like a bird preparing to take flight. “She talked about flying and freedom a lot,” Friedman said. “That was something she dreamed of, having that kind of freedom. It’s kind of heartbreaking to me in terms of what she became when she was ill from having smoked a million cigarettes.”Close
SUBSCRIBE TO & FOLLOW CULTURE SHIFT
Level up. Read THIS and be the most interesting person at your dinner party. Learn more
In the next image in the series, Dorothy is in the hospital during the final year of her life. Cords emerge from her scalp barely distinguishable from strands of hair, connected to a machine close by. “Those pictures in the hospital were difficult to take, but I did take them,” Friedman said. “I wanted to have a project with a beginning and an end.”
Friedman seems uneasy about having followed through with his project, pushing past the point when his mother could potentially have asked him to stop. The series, organized out of chronological order, jumps from a retro glam shot of Dorothy as a young mother, cigarette in hand, to a painful image of a woman in a hospital gown, a tube stuck in both nostrils, staring with confusion and physical anguish into the camera’s lens. The contrast of youth and vitality with illness and old age tells a story that transcends the individual woman depicted to capture what so many endure when losing a parent. The photos show just how much there is to lose, how much of Dorothy was gone long before she took her final breath.
Toward the end of Dorothy’s life, the camera once again facilitated communication and closeness. Hooked up to breathing tubes, Friedman’s mother was no longer able to speak. The camera made space for a wordless conversation between mother and son that continued until Dorothy died in 1990. Although Friedman initially expected the series to warn others about the dangers of smoking, it changed along the way to capture the relationship between mother and son, imperfect and impermanent, pulsing with tenderness and love.
- Witches Explain How To Take On Political Power With Occult Magic
- Don’t Be A Grammar Snob: The Singular ‘They’ Has Been Around For Centuries
- Author Mary Gaitskill On Rape Culture And Her New Essay Collection
- Beyoncé's Pregnancy Photographer Turns Attention To Trump's America
- This Broadway Play Is What Art Should Look Like In Trump's America
- Women’s Bodies Go Uncensored In This Very Real New Photo Collection
- My Ex Became A Totally Different Person After Our Divorce
- College Student Creates A Mobile Directory Of 600 Books That Prioritize Diversity
- Shoshanna, Forever The Best 'Girls' Character, Has Evolved To A Higher Plane
- 14 Iranian Artists Explore Just How Complex Identity Can Be
- 97 Ways Of Saying The Same Hateful Thing: 'Get Out Of America'
- Photographs Capture The Intimate, Ordinary Moments Of Queer Life In India
You might also like
- I’m Taking A Break From Social Activism And OMG I Need Like Everyone I Know To Read About This
- My Ex Became A Totally Different Person After Our Divorce
- The Public Should Pay Only For Public Schools, Not Religious Schools
- For Public Schools, It's Been '1984' For Quite A While
- 5 'Fate Of The Furious' Moments So Unnecessary, They're Necessary
- The Androgynous 'Third Gender' Of 17th-Century Japan
- Trump's Pick To Lead The Army Believes Being Transgender Is A Disease
- Senate Confirms Neil Gorsuch To Supreme Court After Historic Blockade Of Obama's Nominee
- Jeff Sessions Prepares DOJ For Crackdown On Unauthorized Border-Crossers
- Family Immigrant Detention Centers Struggle To Get Child Care Licenses
- Trump Administration Won't Routinely Separate Families At The Border After All
- New Sheriff Closes Joe Arpaio’s Infamous ‘Tent City’ Jail
- Powerful South Carolina political consultant implicated in indictments of a veteran state senator
- Will Donald Trump get a second Supreme Court nomination?
- "Hazing" rituals await Supreme Court's "junior justice" Neil Gorsuch
- The hunt is on for Planet Nine. Here's how to join it
- Trump approves controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline
- Trump praises 'Fox & Friends,' renews old feuds in early morning tweets
- Rex Tillerson finally answers question from NBC News' Andrea Mitchell
- First Read's Morning Clips: The Latest in the Russia Investigation
- Spicer: 'I've let the president down'
- Russian President Vladimir Putin met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday
- OMB Diriector Mick Mulvaney: Washington's 'a lot more broken' than Trump thought
- Trump attacks conservatives over failure of health care bill
- A very consequential week didn't go well for President Trump
- Health Care Showdown: Republicans look to go big or go home
- No deal on health care bill after conservatives meet with Trump
- CA gov on those supporting health bill: 'Their name is going to be mud'
- Give it to me straight, doc: Is Obamacare dying?
- First Read's Morning Clips: Waiting for CBO
- 14 People Share What's It's Really Like to Have An Ex Who Is Now Their In-Law
- The Internet Is Freaking Out About The Way This Chef Cuts Pizza
- Calendar: Highlights from around town
- Tribute at Alex Theatre to honor the Band
- The Radical Power Of Lana Del Rey's Smile
- Inside One Female Photographer's Mission To Normalize The Nude Male Body
- New 'Serial' Podcast, 'S-Town,' Just Debuted All Its Episodes At Once
- 'Books Not Bombs' Initiative Promotes Education For Syrian Scholars
- How One Grandma's Modest Closet Found Its Way Into The Met
- In 1981, Margaret Atwood Made A Stirring Case For Investing In Culture
- White Artist's Painting Of Emmett Till Sparks Protest, Controversy And A Viral Hoax
- Despite Death Threats, Nazi-Themed Trump Billboard Artist Plans More
- Relive Your College Years With This Thoughtful, Hilarious Novel
- Some Theories On Trump's Bizarre Misuse Of Quotation Marks
- Gorgeous Portraits Capture Sisterhood Among Muslim American Teenagers
- Hundreds Of Stuffed Animals At The Jewish Museum Pay Unlikely Tribute To Immigrants
- Here's How You Can Help Fight Street Harassment With Public Art
- Artist Paints Interracial Couples Just Being, Together
- Jane Austen Has Become An Alt-Right Icon, Somehow
- Photographer Chronicles The Glamorous Hairstyles Of West Africa's Beauty Salons
- 23 Recent Books By Women You Should Read ASAP
- Arts Advocates Denounce Proposed Elimination Of The NEA And NEH