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The Story Behind the Work

Elaine O'Neal's daily portraits of her daughter

"Elaine O'Neil, April 13, 1996," from the "Mother Daughter" series. (Luisita L. And Franz H. Denghausen Endowment)
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Friday, February 4, 2011

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORK

When Elaine O'Neil's daughter, Julia Hess, was almost 11, she agreed to be photographed with her mother every day for one year. The informal daily portraits actually continued for more than four years, yielding 1,500 exposures.

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It was an art project, of course, but also a maternal one. O'Neil recalls she was reading books about adolescence, which said that "girls' self-confidence had to do with their relationships with their mothers." Also, she was working long hours, and "wanted to have the connection we had had previously."

O'Neil originally intended to exhibit all the photographs, but now says that "half of them I would never show. It became clear that some were simply better photographs." ("Close to Home" includes 10; see more at www.motherdaughterbook.com .)

The daily ritual ended as Hess's 16th birthday approached. (She's now 28.) "It was an appropriate time to stop," O'Neil says. "At 16, she was very much more interested in the outside world than in the home."

- Mark Jenkins


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