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Minus The Mother



Michal Iwanowski, Minus the Mother, courtesy the artist

"Psychoanalysis uses the term 'anticipatory grief' referring to 'the feelings experienced by those waiting for someone to die. Knowing their loved one is dying, they start the mourning process before the actual death. (...)

But it could be argued that anticipatory grief is in fact a phenomenon that occurs when the one we are mourning is very far from death. (...)

The result of anticipatory grief is the painful realization that the object already contains the possibility of its non-existence. A nothingness is created."

Darian Leader

Talking was not easy for either of us. So instead - we started making photographs, in the woods surrounding my parents' house. Mama would ask what she should wear, and she would walk into the landscape.

We've done this for years.

In the meantime, mama's emails to me took a different tone - in a beautiful, poetic language, she shared with me fragments of her dreams, her scattered thoughts about the lost time, and the overwhelming fear of losing yet more of it. In those letters she told what a child does not necessarily want to hear from their parents.

Yet I asked the questions. Hoping it might leave me prepared for the future.

It is an unsettling and daring move to talk about a loved person as if they were no longer alive.

With this project, I am encouraging you to think about your losses, those that have happened, and more so, about those that are still to take place.

I am inviting you to meet my mother.


Michal Iwanowski


Michal Iwanowski, Minus the Mother, courtesy the artist

" I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence. In front of the photograph of my mother as a child, I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder, like Winnicott’s psychotic patient, over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe. "

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida


Of all the pictures of mothers, probably one of the most emblematic is an image that we never got to see: the famous Winter Garden photograph that is at the centre of Roland Barthes’ reflections of photography in Camera Lucida. This image of his recently deceased mother as a child talked to him about loss, mourning, and the noeme / essence of photography itself: death. Because photography is a form of hallucination, an image in the bizzarre temporality of a future anterior. In freezing the moment, in stopping the movement of life, photography describes the fatality of stillness, it becomes a memento mori and an intense meditation on mortality.


When reading the words about anticipatory grief quoted by Michal Iwanowski in his work, about the process of mourning that starts before the actual event, I couldn't stop thinking about Barthes and his elegiac book. « Minus the Mother » is also an elegy to a mother. « Minus », something missing, lost. This lack could be death, but also distance, physical, geographical, mental. Michal has been living abroad for a long time, and his mother still lives back in Poland, his home country. This project is a conversation between them, in images, taken every time he goes back. They go out together, in the woods of his childhood, in an almost untouched nature where she seems to belong completely, even with her tiger prints, even with the most colorful clothes. The forest is a space where words are not needed, where connections are weaved otherwise. Her feet covered in snails, her figure enveloped and enmeshed in the living word out there. A creature of the woods.


Photography here does something more than just capture the moments spent together; it contributes to their emergence and expression. It becomes part of a performance, of a relational work of art that builds slowly, over time, image by image, walk by walk, detail by detail. It started fifteen years ago and continues, in motion, like human relations, like life. Until.


Rachele Ceccarelli


Michal Iwanowski, Minus the Mother, courtesy the artist


Michal Iwanowski is a Cardiff based artist photographer. He graduated from Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport in 2008. In 2009, he won the Emerging Photographers award by Magenta Foundation, and his last two projects (Clear of People and Go Home Polish) have been nominated for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize. Iwanowski's work has been exhibited and published worldwide. It has also been acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (Croatia), and most recently by the National Museum of Wales (2020). The most recent project Go Home, Polish has been featured on TV Arte, BBC World and in The Guardian. His first monograph Clear of People was published by Brave Books in April 2017. His work combines elements of the documentary tradition with a conceptual approach, bringing together photography, text, archival materials and performative elements, i.e. long distance walking. Iwanowski often sets his protagonists against nature, in a bid to highlight the parallels between the personal and the global perspectives.

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