Justine Kurland


Casper grew up on the road. He believed it was normal; believed other mamas were loading sheet film at Mc- Donald's; believed other kids lived in vans and played with rocks as their parents composed scenes. On one hand it was the most beautiful way to be together, nes- tled under down comforters in the back of a van with all our worldly possessions packed in around us. But it was also the most brutal way to try to be a mother, trapped together alone for months on end while I was struggling to make work. His being penetrated every part of my consciousness and of my working process. It changed what I photographed and how I photographed; nothing could be over-thought or seen frontally but happened in the periphery of my retina. The work became less di- rected and more prayed for, each picture a kind of mira- cle, a ghost gleaned from somewhere out there in the American landscape. I remember yelling at him once in total frustration, "Jeff Wall doesn't have to make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in the middle of his shoots." And him replying at 4, "Oh, yeah, what else does Jeff Wall not have to do?"

Often the moments I photographed him were not the loving moments of a mother gazing at her child but of a prisoner glaring at her guard. Casper, feeling the inten- sity of everything I needed out of a photograph, shied from it, and so I learned to bribe and extort photographs from him. His favorite pose was to place his hand in front of his face, but later he learned more subtle forms of protest, contorting his body inward as if I bore down on him with a scalding lens.

This November I put Casper into public school. We had reached an impasse where the war between par- enting and art became too psychologically intense. So this past road trip was our last together. Driving down some highway, I remember wondering if it was worth it, torturing Casper, his dad, and myself in order to make photographs. Thinking out loud I said, "I don't know why I do it, I don't know why I'm a photographer." Casper responded, "Mama you are a photographer so you can go on road trips." As if to say, I forgive you.