What would a life portrait look like? There are many interpretations of what could be meant by that but in Friedl Kubelka's case, it was to make a headshot photo of her daughter every Monday from the first day of her daughter's life until her 18th year. This act of "Monday photo," as her daughter Louise came to call it, is part ritual, part performance, part obsession.
Friedl Kubelka: Portrait Louise Anna Kubelka published by Fotohof in 1998 presents this work in its entirety.
Arranged in grids of 52 photographs and starting in 1978, we see the passing of 18 years and how it shapes a young woman's face as in a time-lapse film. The framework of photographing Louise's head in close-up against a neutral background accentuates the seeming difference in her moods although photography is too slippery a liar for a true reading.
At sixth months old, Louise seems to show an amusement with the camera, like most, she tends to smile when the lens is pointed in her direction. By the fourth year she her face relaxes into into expressions that seem to serious for such a young age. Perhaps a reflection of her mother's verbal direction ("neutral background, close-up of face, look serious") her "seriousness" seems to be something she grows into as she ages into her teen years.
By 9 or 10 Louisa seems to be shaping her own identity and self-representation apart from her mother. Her hair styles vary and blank spaces appear in the grids where a Monday photo was missed. By the last year, the 18th, only 12 images appear in the first few months until finally the ritual is broken.
In some ways, this work is a display of a coerced collaboration that even Louise has questioned. "I have asked myself whether my mother had the right to use me as an object in this way." But she adds, "Had she waited until I had been able to make that decision for myself, my life portrait wouldn't exist." She later mentions the fictional nature set by the parameters. "When I look at this child in the process of growing up, I see a person who is too serious. Although I know my mother wanted to avoid the artificial cheerfulness of common photographs, I think she should have depicted me true to my respective moods."
This book was produced as a catalog to accompany a show at the Galerie Fotohof in Austria and it does a great job in presenting the work in a huge over-sized form which is necessary to full see the grids and the individual photos. It is cleanly designed and includes a short essay by Annette Michelson and a short text from Louise looking back on her experience with the project.
Photo albums often have the effect of piecing together the time-line of a life in fits and starts that skip vast spans of time. This project is about the tight flow of time but more importantly for me, it is tainted with melancholy once the gaps in the grids start to appear. The bond implied by the structure shifts as most parent / child relationships will, and the silence of those gaps make it apparent that Louise has created a life apart from her mother. This series seems to be one mother's way to resist that change. An act of anticipated desperation presented as art.
Buy at Fotohof