For most of Courtney Coles' young life, her mother has been sick. "The first photograph I made of her was in December 2007, when she was in the hospital," she said in an interview. "I remember thinking, 'if I don't photograph what's happening, I won't have any memory of being here.'"
Since then, Coles, 26, has continued to photograph her mother, one of her favorite subjects, in good health and in bad. She uses her camera to filter her feelings into a sort of visual diary. "It started as a way to be present without actually being present," she said.
The resulting, ongoing project, tenderly titled momma, both exposes and embraces the vulnerable relationship between mother and daughter, subject and photographer. In one photo, her mother's direct gaze challenges the camera, while in another, her arms are wide open and the focus is on that place on the chest above the heart where a child might rest her head. Coles herself is present in just one photo, but she's hidden behind her camera so we're forced to see her only through her mother's reflection.
Such evocative moments, captured over a decade, mirror Coles' creative transition from natural observer documenting her friends and family to artist putting her subjects on display. "It was a process," she said. "[But it] helped me stop being afraid of making art with and of my loved ones because what you're actually seeing is the product of trust and love through collaboration."
The love Coles has for her subject in this series is evident in the warm light she shoots with and her choice of composition: her mother almost always filling the frame, looking larger than life even in her weakest moments.
"My mom is my absolute everything," Coles said. "I see so much of myself in her and her in me. I also see her mom in her and to be part of a family of strong women that beautiful is great. It's humbling to have the ability to photograph it for my future children to see."