Family Portrait is an exploration of the invisibility and denial of grief in American society. Why do we hide from grief, from our own pain and sorrow, and the pain and sorrow of others? Why do we as a culture encourage this behavior in each other? What are we ashamed of? I ask this question specifically when the death we hide from is that of a newborn, that most unacceptable and also unacknowledged of deaths.
Not until a recent tragic and horrific loss in my own life, the death of my first-born child Birdie who was stillborn on March 3, 2007, have I ever questioned the way that we as a society '‘handle’' death in this country. Birdie’s death, and the intense grief and anger that has been with me every day since, has raised so many questions about public grieving for me. As a grieving mother I have become an advocate for speaking out about my grief, my pain and my anger. I have not been and will not be quiet about the death of my child.
Following Birdie’s death, while still in the hospital with her, my husband Matt and I photographed her and each other with her. Even though we were deep in shock, we intuited that to photograph was right and important, as the days we would have with her would be our only moments with her. With this “evidence of experience” that we have to look upon, we retain the searing trauma, intense anger and unimaginable pain of the death of our child, but also our memories of her, which are what makes these photographs so important to us.
Through this work, a reflection of my own experience, I hope to break down the wall of invisibility surrounding this kind of grief. In Family Portrait I endeavor, with our photos of Birdie and ourselves and also the new images I have created using them, to make the invisible visible and seen, to bring the deepest and rawest of this common but unspoken grief to the surface and to the attention of anyone who looks at the work.