“When my mother and my grandmother would be parting at the end of the day, they always kissed. And they kissed on the lips, so that was very outstanding to me- something significant. I remember once, my mother was yelling my name...I was somewhere else, down the hall and they were about to say goodbye with a kiss and she knew I liked to photograph that, so she was calling me!”
- Arlene Gottfried

Mommie Kissing Bubbie, from the book Sometimes Overwhelming.

Mommie Kissing Bubbie, from the book Sometimes Overwhelming.

The way in which Arlene Gottfried has captured so many beautiful strangers on the streets, shows how bright and curious her eyes, and how open and warm her heart must have been.
But those pictures are for another day.

Today is for the intensely intimate photographs she made of the strongest and most important women in her life; her grandmother, mother and sister. “Mommie” is a portrait of these three generations of inseparable women, taken over the stunning course of 35 years and through the eyes of a daughter that loves them unconditionally. The pictures are so honest, pure and tender, that we can almost feel the strength of their bond.
Although life isn’t gentle to these ladies, they sure are gentle and loving to each other.

In Arlene’s own words about the series, “Part of it was trying to stop time...which of course, I couldn’t do.
With “Mommie” she does however show us beauty in the ordinary, offers comfort through the pain and vulnerability of illness and ageing, and leaves us with hope for the future.

On this loving journey through time, we meet Arlene’s breathtaking grandmother- Minnie "Bubbie" Zimmerman, who was born in Odessa in 1897, came to the US all by herself at 14 years of age and lived to be 104 years old. She looks so lively, sweet and cheeky and it moves me to slowly notice her posture change, the frailty of her naked knees and her thinning arms.
Mommie Lilian has such a beautiful and strong sparkle in her younger eyes, but also has a fragile health and as she gets older, her suffering from diabetes deepens. The photographs show the ever increasing pain in her face, as well as the compassion and care in the expressions of those that surround her.
And sister Karen, is so obviously adored by young Arlene that it’s simply heartwarming. Over and again she catches her when looking her best, happiest and prettiest. As time passes, Karen even seems less reluctant to be photographed, while she now grows older and becomes a loving caregiver.
We follow the women through their lives together and ultimately through their separation by illness and death.
Bubbie and Mommie pass away close in time, leaving an empty house behind.
…We pause.
Then, although Karen doesn’t seem to be quite that young anymore, she gives birth to little baby Graham.
And while her eyes still show traces of grief, new life will gently ease the pain of loss.
A new generation has begun.

What touches me, is that the technical perfection of the photo’s always takes the backseat and intimacy comes first.
Because the pictures might not be technically perfect, but life isn't either.
Sometimes life shakes, blurs of blind us and we just don’t always remain well composed or have enough time to quickly adjust our focus.
Perhaps “Mommie” shows us, that in a way the best we can do, is to keep looking with a curious eye and a tender heart and to lovingly bear witness to one another.
We can’t stop time, but we can walk each other home.
And we can always, always leave with a kiss.


* all photographs copyright ©Arlene Gottfried, click to enlarge