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When I was around ten, we got a Polaroid. This was the first time I was allowed to use one of my parents’ cameras somewhat freely.

I took this in our living room. I labeled it “EARLY A.M. 3/7/82,” a Sunday. I wanted to capture my mom and her setting. From her diaries I know that by this point in time, my father’s mental illness had subsumed my mom’s personality, as strange as that sounds. They both believed I was trying to harm them. Today I see irrational anger in her face, disappointment, and sadness.

I also notice her setting, as I did then, but in a different way. I see objects I chose to keep when I emptied the apartment following her death in 2010: the book of silent movie scores, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Rolodex. I see things that were long gone by this time (the watercolor, the push-button phone, the couch) and things I could have inherited but didn’t want to: the statuette of the girl with the flute, the electric pencil sharpener, the plastic file marked URGENT.

Even at ten, I knew that you could tell how people felt by looking at them carefully, and by looking at their spaces. Today I take pictures of my own space, with its complicated heritage, knowing that it defines me too.

image by
Varese Layzer

Published as part of the “Early Works Project”,
curated by Laura Moya & Laura Valenti Jelen.