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Daddy Where are You Hardcover – November 21, 2008
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The images are replete with stunning landscapes, which envelop the characters (Mother, grandchildren, and Gearon herself) in lush green rolling hills and tree branches etching out soft-hatched shadows into the light. The landscapes are bound by turquoise drenched skies. In one image of pure beauty, a translucent champagne chiffon nightgown softly shimmers in the light of a window diffused by a sheet. Gearon is working out some of her demons here, as in one picture the pain is palable in her eyes. Ultimately the book is about the forces that pull families together. In a candid image, a naked mother and daughter embrace in mother-daughter moment. The book challenges the view with the title's question, "Daddy, where are you?" And the book answers in a surrealistic fashion, tinged with a tongue in cheek humor. In the second to last image her mother wears red hippie style dress and a Nixon mask. These powerful and poignant images bring Gearon's work to a new level of sophistication.
The first time we went out (I took her to dinner on her 19th birthday) she told me about her "crazy mother", and how at thirteen she'd been drafted into taking over the role in the family that her mother's absence had left behind. There was no self-pity in her tale. Yes, there was a childish flush of, "Isn't this a weird story? Have you ever met anyone like me? Someone who had a crazy mother?" She even laughed at the absurdity of her position.
I thought it brave, though perhaps a little foolhardy, for her to tell me this so soon after we'd met. And on my way home I reflected on how much more mature and grounded she seemed at nineteen than I was at thirty-one. I also wondered how I would've turned out if my mother had been mentally ill. Would I be so open and able to laugh at my situation? Upon reflection, I decided I wanted to be like her.
In the space of a single evening, Tierney Gearon had become one of my role models.
We've kept in touch over the years, and I had the privilege and pleasure of accompanying her on two trips to visit her mother in upstate New York (not Georgia, as has been incorrectly noted above). The first visit was in 1990, and the second was about three years ago (in 2005) when I tagged along with my dog Freddie (who's mentioned, by the way, in the acknowledgements section of this book).
Tierney seemed tense and agitated for a large part of that first trip, which was a few months before her first gig as a professional photographer. (I remember her first assignment because she somehow roped me into being her photo assistant!) During that first trip upstate I wasn't sure why she was so tense. There were moments when she was herself and that lovely laugh of hers was able to burst forth. But underneath it all there seemed to be a hidden need I couldn't assess.
On the second trip, during which I was privileged to watch her shooting some of the photos in this collection, that inner tension was still there, but this time it had an outlet--Tierney's camera. When she wasn't bringing in her mother's groceries and cigarettes, giving instructions to her kids, or being pragmatic about her mother's bills, she was taking pictures, pictures, and more pictures. And as I observed her, looking through the viewfinder, trying to find the right light, trying to find the right pose, it finally hit me: she's trying to find her SELF.
Children need modeling from their parents. Girls need to watch how their mothers behave around their fathers, their friends, their teachers. They need to see how their mothers just move through a doorway, through the world, through space and time. Tierney didn't get enough of that from her mother, not the right kind, anyway. She had to become her own role model. And I don't think she understands yet what a miraculous, impossible thing that was. And I think she keeps trying to find that missing piece of herself in her photographs.
It frustrates me a little to try to make her laugh while she's looking into her camera. She's too focused to listen to my jokes, as if her lens was a doorway into a very serious world. (Sometimes she'll hear a joke of mine but won't react until two minutes later.) That doesn't mean she never laughs when taking photographs. In fact, she cracks herself up all the time. And I laugh myself silly when viewing some of them. There's a great deal of humor attached to almost everything she does, as you'll see in this book. There are moments captured here that will probably make YOU laugh, or at least smile. Yet I should warn you: there are also pictures here that will make you cringe, make you want to look away, make you almost wish you hadn't seen them; they get too close to the bone of that madness Tierney Gearon has been both escaping from and flirting with nearly all her life.
Still, who knows what effect these photographs will have on the life of the viewer? Will people find the humor in them? The beauty? The emptiness? The madness? The solace? The horror? I think so. I think that's how art works. The artist looks at herself, and we, in looking at what she sees, find our own reflections.