In A Nutshell
Leigh Ledare is a photographer from Seattle whose works have been featured in a series of art galleries across the world. But unlike his contemporaries, the 37-year-old doesn’t capture portraits or landscapes. Instead, his snapshots are the result of a strange obsession: his nude mother, and her love life.
The Whole Bushel
Visitors to one of Leigh Ledare’s photography exhibits might be shocked to learn that the photos of the nude woman on display are of his mother—and rightfully so. One of them showcases the red-headed woman sprawled naked on a bed; another has her in the heat of passion with a former lover; a third depicts her wearing a princess crown, frozen in another act of love. These, and many others, were all taken by Ledare, as he sat in on the privacy of his mother’s love life, twisting a lens, and pressing the shutter button. She not only approved of his art, but also encouraged it.
In a recent interview, Ledare recalled how it began in his youth, saying, “I arrived home not having seen her for a year and a half. She knew I was coming and opened the door naked.” He took the exhibition to be his mother’s “way of announcing to me what she was up to, at this period in her life—almost as though to say, ‘Take it or leave it.’ I had a camera and began making photos of her then. She was the catalyst.”
Thus began what he describes as an eight-year “project,” during which he developed a very “open and intimate” relationship with his mother. The result was Pretend You’re Actually Alive, a 244-page book, featuring the taboo photographs along with special commentary. In an accompanying reminiscence from the seventh grade, he writes: “The mound of red hair at her crotch is starting to dry and get fluffy.”
Critics and art commentators, jumping at the chance to review his work, helped propel him to an “acclaimed” status, with one suggesting that “The result is unsettling, as gripping as it is disconcerting. And there is little else like them in the history of photography.” Others see it as the manifestation of an Oedipus complex, a psychoanalytical theory pointing to a child’s desire to “sexually possess the parent of the opposite sex.”
But Ledare is full of adorning, purple prose when it comes to describing his work:
“This relationship is unstable in the sense that it attempts not to essentialize [sic] my mother but record her self-representations as responses to economic, social and intimate needs. There is certainly an ambivalence that lies at the core of the work, and perhaps this is disturbing, but I also think it’s an accurate reflection of life and relationships.”