I can assume that an image of my mother was my first. I can guess that it was her looming head and the peculiar hole of the mouth that first inaugurated my eyes. I could not yet hold my head. I doubt I had even conceived that a body housed me. I could attest only to her image. That I can now aim a camera at her face marks an upheaval. Her face is more wrinkled and slack, and it is I who discriminates the worthy image. Surely the first subject to incise the frame after the soldier was the mother. For as I ascend and my mother declines, the camera announces its heroic charge to memorialize.
Charlie Engman upsets this dialogue. His work does not memorialize his mother; it desecrates her. This is not mother in her garden; this is mother through a peephole. He admits in the New Yorker, “I treat her as a material that I can manipulate…” He errs the codes of conduct that regulate family ties to make a mockery of the sentimentality inherent in the abbreviated “mom.” Engman disguises his mom as a sort of Mary Magdalene, loose and discombobulated, and we witness her exploitation. The photos, then, are not so much a portrait of Engman’s mother as Engman’s own mischief. Yet this may be real closeness. This may be what is left when we forgo what social code insist we seal and sugarcoat.