Virginie KhateebUntitled from the series A crowd of people turned away (2016)

The two words I’d use to describe the emotional state that precedes composing posts like this are: uncertainty and dread.

I’ve said it before but the not dead yet horse can use a few more lashes–writing is an intensely painful undertaking for me. (All my writer friends would be quick to console me that such a feeling means I’m ‘doing it right’.)

But I never feel like I’m doing it well, let alone ‘right’–whatever the hell that might entail.

I just know that this belongs here. It’s a less preternatural awareness and more obsession–I just read this as being staggeringly perverse. And I can say that and merely by asserting the point, disengage and leave you, dear reader, to unknot my meaning through your own meditative contemplation.

But to do so would indicate an intellectual disingenuity that I can’t really abide.

I guess the first thing I notice about this image is that the staging of it seems intended to convey more than anything the relationship between these two women. In other words: maternal (mother or grandmother) figure and progeny (daughter or grand-daughter).

And the thought reminds me of a conversation I had recently with an acquaintance about how all relationships are–by their very nature–a sprawling mess but that mother-daughter relationships are far and away the most fraught and messy.

Add to that the way that just barely visible in the background is ruined building in front of which these two women are standing. It’s almost as if the world behind them is collapsing as they look towards the future.

The younger woman is slightly closer to the camera. Her body is angled so that she is both perhaps about to walk forward and positioned in such a way to minimize the parts of her body that can be touched by the older woman. In other words, her body language speaks of trying to make herself a smaller target while still behaving as is expected of her.

I am inclined to suggest the older woman is supposed to be her mother and not her grandmother. (I’d expect a grand mother to either stand at slightly more of a remove; or, to be less demanding in the way she’s forcing physical contact.)

The older woman is positioned in relationship to her daughter and the ruins behind them. There is a very profound sense that this scene will not last long and that if the older woman moves, she will retreat not follow the younger woman as she moves closer to the camera.

I adore the texture of the sweaters and how with selective contrast control, the boundaries between their body are clearly delimited but there’s still a connection between them.

I look at this and I almost hear my own mother ordering me to not slouch and to do people the courtesy of looking them in the eye. (Eye contact is unbelievably difficult for me and I think there are maybe four people I know whose eye color I can tell you when asked.)

But none of that is really perverse. It’s loaded with pathos and highly relateable, yes. So what makes it perverse?

It’s partly the way she’s forcing her head into this haughty, regal posture. It’s also the way the sweater has fallen around her right shoulder revealing her camisole. And I can’t help but see the sort of dichotomy mothers must face with their daughters where they want them to be self-possessed, independent and strong–while also not cold and unappealing.

Also, the way the older woman is more concerned about the way her daughter has positioned her head as opposed to the unsightly fallen sweater, suggests a bit of the adage where women are socialized to leave something to the imagination.

All that makes me uneasy. But then there’s a fact that this photograph is part of a series borrowing it’s title from lyrics to The BeatlesA Day in the Life.

As I’m sure you know that song includes the infamous line “I’d love to turn you on.” Which is supposed to be a reference to the famous line from Timothy Leary advising folks to turn on, tune in and drop out. (But you can’t overlook the more obvious meaning, especially in light of this image.)

So I really think this image is about how parents dedicate their existence to providing a better life than they had for themselves. It’s well intentioned enough but it contributes a lot of baggage when kids don’t necessarily want a life similar to their parents.

It’s like at what point does the task of raising a child end as does a certain level of at least indoctrination, if not straight up brainwashing occur?

There’s a feeling–to me, at least–that things don’t necessarily end well for either of these women. The younger one maybe still has a chance. But what I think makes it interesting is that although there’s a sense of foreboding, there’s a humanity to the older woman that saves her from being read as a unyielding crone.

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