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Exploring Maternal Bonds: The Intimate Photography of “Don’t Forget to Call Your Mother” at The Met



The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s photography exhibition, “Don’t Forget to Call Your Mother,” is a poignant and thought-provoking collection that delves into the intricate web of familial bonds through the lens of various photographers. This exhibition, curated with meticulous care, offers a diverse array of visual narratives that explore the intimate, often complex relationships between mothers and their children. Through a blend of contemporary and historical works, the exhibition challenges viewers to reflect on their own familial connections and the universal experiences of love, loss, and memory.

Photo Bar, Sadie Barnette (American, born Oakland, California, 1986)

One of the exhibition’s strengths lies in its ability to juxtapose different photographic styles and eras, creating a rich tapestry of visual storytelling. From the candid snapshots of everyday life to the carefully composed portraits, each piece offers a unique perspective on the theme of motherhood. The exhibition features works by renowned photographers such as Dorothea Lange, whose powerful images of mothers during the Great Depression capture the resilience and strength of women in the face of adversity. Lange’s iconic photograph, “Migrant Mother,” serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring power of maternal love.

Untitled Film Still, Larry Sultan (American, 1946–2009)

In contrast, the contemporary works in the exhibition offer a more nuanced exploration of the modern mother-child relationship. For instance, the intimate portraits by Sally Mann depict her own children in moments of vulnerability and tenderness, challenging traditional notions of childhood and motherhood. Mann’s photographs, often controversial, provoke a deep emotional response and invite viewers to consider the complexities of family life.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the inclusion of works that explore the theme of absence and loss. The hauntingly beautiful images by Nicholas Nixon, from his series “The Brown Sisters,” document the passage of time and the changing dynamics within a family over several decades. Nixon’s commitment to capturing the same subjects year after year creates a powerful narrative of familial continuity and the inevitable changes that occur with the passage of time.

Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like mother like daughter), Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1977)

The exhibition also features several multimedia installations that add depth and dimension to the exploration of the mother-child relationship. For example, the video installation by LaToya Ruby Frazier combines still photographs with moving images to tell the story of her own family’s struggles with illness and poverty. Frazier’s work is a powerful testament to the enduring strength of maternal bonds and the ways in which they can be both a source of comfort and a burden.

The curatorial approach to “Don’t Forget to Call Your Mother” is both sensitive and insightful, allowing the photographs to speak for themselves while providing context through carefully crafted wall texts and exhibition labels. The exhibition is organized thematically, with sections dedicated to different aspects of the mother-child relationship, such as “Motherhood in Adversity,” “Modern Motherhood,” and “The Passage of Time.” This thematic organization allows viewers to engage with the works on multiple levels and to draw connections between different pieces and their own experiences.

Jollies, Sadie Benning (American, born Milwaukee, 1973)

One of the most striking aspects of the exhibition is its ability to evoke a sense of nostalgia and personal reflection. As viewers move through the gallery, they are invited to consider their own relationships with their mothers and to reflect on the ways in which these relationships have shaped their lives. The photographs, with their intimate and often unguarded depictions of family life, serve as a mirror, reflecting back the universal experiences of love, loss, and longing.

In conclusion, “Don’t Forget to Call Your Mother” is a masterfully curated exhibition that offers a profound and moving exploration of the mother-child relationship. Through a diverse array of photographic works, the exhibition captures the complexity and beauty of familial bonds, inviting viewers to reflect on their own experiences and to consider the ways in which these relationships shape our lives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has once again succeeded in creating an exhibition that is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant, making it a must-see for anyone interested in the art of photography and the intricacies of family life.

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