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a hungry mouth for every peach Justine Kurland

I took Casper on his first road trip when he was 3 months old and by the time he was one we managed to stay out most of each year for the next five years of his life. On the one hand it was the most beautiful way to be together, nestled under down comforters in the back of a van with all our worldly possessions packed in around us; among red wood trees where we would build forts in the hollows and make soup from their needles, finding star fish in the pacific ocean, and the many glass jars that might spill insect specimens were our car to hit a sudden bump; climbing rocks in the desert, climbing trees in the forest. But it was also the most brutal way to try to be a mother, trapped together alone for months on end while I was always struggling with him to let me 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 confronted frontally. Everything happened peripherally to my parenting. The work became less directed and more prayed for, each picture a kind of miracle, a ghost gleaned from somewhere out there in the American landscape and I was forever being pulled back by Casper. 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 photo shoots." And he replying at 4, "Oh yeah, what else does Jeff Wall not have to do?" Casper grew up on the road, believed it was normal, believed other mamas were loading sheet film at McDonalds, believed other kids lived in vans and played with rocks as their parents composed scenes. Once he woke up sweetly from a nap in his car seat and said, "Where are we mama? Are we shopping for views?" people often thought we were homeless, sometimes offering food or money. Our migration took a southern route in the winter and a northern route in the summer, and while my wanderlust was insatiable Casper’s tendency was towards routine and predictability. To accommodate this I created a bubble around our life in the van. I made a play tent for him and sawed off the legs of a card table and set up his toys the same at each new campsite and spent hours trapped there playing with trains first and legos latter.

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 intensity 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 he later learned more subtle forms of protest contorting his body inward as I bore down upon him with a scalding lens. He also eventually rejected the natureboy role I cast for him, preferring the signage along the road (where he learned to read), cars (he drew and memorized car logos) and the strip malls that have homogenized the American roadside landscape (the Denny’s and Wal-marts being a special treat from the forests where we camped). At a primitive skills gathering, he wanted to bring a glow stick to the campfire, and I explained that no one would appreciate it because it was made of plastic and filled with chemicals and because they were trying to do things a natural way and he at 5 said, "But they have cars and tents." Last year we got off the road and I put Casper into public school. We had reached a point where I was all he had and it could never be enough. The war between parenting and photography became too intense. So this past road trip was our last together. Driving down some bit of highway I remember wondering as I often do if it was worth it, torturing Casper, his dad and myself in order to make this work. Thinking out loud I said, "I don't know why I do it, I don't know why I'm a photographer." and Casper at 6 responded, "Mama you are a photographer so you can go on road trips." As if to say, I forgive you. - Justine Kurland 2012

a hungry mouth for every peach  

Photos by Justine Kurland

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