Annabel Clark, right, with her cancer-stricken mother Lynn Redgrave in March 2003. In her book, Clark writes, "After shaving my mother's head and feeling that our roles had been reversed, I realized that my project was not just a documentation of my mother's illness, but of how we were navigating it together. It seemed important to insert myself into the narrative."
Annabel Clark, right, with her cancer-stricken mother Lynn Redgrave in March 2003. In her book, Clark writes, "After shaving my mother's head and feeling that our roles had been reversed, I realized that my project was not just a documentation of my mother's illness, but of how we were navigating it together. It seemed important to insert myself into the narrative." Annabel Clark
At some point in every artist's journey, art will imitate life. For photographer Annabel Clark, that came early and it came with a fury.
A few days before Christmas in 2002, Clark's mother, actress Lynn Redgrave, was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the pair struggled with the diagnosis, they decided to turn the disease into a photographic journal — "to make it less scary." It was a defining moment in many ways. Not only did it bring mother and daughter together in ways they could never imagine, but it also made Clark the photographer she is today.
We decided to take a look back at Clark's experience — and her work since — with Morning Edition starting its series "Family Matters," exploring the lives of three multigenerational families.
Anything But 'A Very Cliched Moment'
Clark was 15 when she took her first photography class. Like many, she spent countless hours in the darkroom, slowly coaxing images out from chemicals and onto paper. "It was a very cliched moment, the image appearing in the dark room ... but it was my first class that I could picture myself doing outside of school."
She was 20 years old and studying photography at Parsons The New School for Design in Brooklyn when her mother came to her with the news. Throughout the following year, Clark would document her mother's recovery from a full mastectomy, chemotherapy treatments and radiation — in part to fulfill her documentary thesis project. But the photography did more than earn Clark a degree.
"[It] was my therapy," she says. "The lens allowed me to look at her changed body, to make sense of the endless treatments and ultimately to be closer to her."
Lynn and her sister, Vanessa Redgrave, on a hammock on Aug. 11, 2003. In her journal around that day, Lynn wrote, "I think I'm the nearest I've ever been in my life to feeling complete. Cancer has given me a certain freedom. Odd but true."
Lynn and her sister, Vanessa Redgrave, on a hammock on Aug. 11, 2003. In her journal around that day, Lynn wrote, "I think I'm the nearest I've ever been in my life to feeling complete. Cancer has given me a certain freedom. Odd but true." Annabel Clark
Clark's intimate images and Redgrave's candid words were compiled in a book, Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery from Breast Cancer, published in the fall of 2004.
The strength of the project lies in the sincerity of the two women. While Clark dared to document intimate moments of vulnerability and hopelessness, Redgrave fearlessly chronicled her internal journey.
One would think Clark would have desired a creative reprieve after this project, but, in fact, she says the experience piqued her interest in learning how other people are coping with similar matters. From 2004 to 2008, Clark undertook a project simply titled "Caregivers": a series featuring family members and the loved ones they are caring for.
> A Gallery Of Annabel Clark's 'Caregivers' Series
"With other people, it was challenging for me," Clark says. "My mother gave me full reign. With these families, I had to get their story without overstepping boundaries. I didn't document their day-to-day caregiving because it felt like that was too private for them."
Ida Christian, 89, gets help from her granddaughter, Yolanda Hunter (left), in blowing out the candles on her birthday cake.
Ida Christian, 89, gets help from her granddaughter, Yolanda Hunter (left), in blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. Kainaz Amaria/NPR
If you live in a multigenerational household, we would like to see what your life looks like. Upload your candid photos here or share on Twitter and Instagram with the tag #nprfamilymatters.
Instead, Clark chose portraiture. "Even though I was photographing my mother [with a documentary approach], there were moments where it was just the two of us — and those moments were ours," she explains."So I didn't want to be the third person in the scene."
The photographic project deftly highlights the universality of aging. It is evident that this matter crosses all socio-economic strata. "Most people will have to deal with an aging parent who can't take care of themselves anymore," says Clark.
She says her camera has remained a healing tool in the aftermath of her mother's death in May 2010. The empathetic responses to her work have inspired Clark to teach a class, now in its sixth year, at a local nonprofit that provides free art workshops to people with cancer and other chronic illnesses.
"The workshop feels like a legacy of the project that we [Clark and Redgrave] created together," Clark says, "and I am inspired by the way that the participants use photography to tell their own stories of survivorship."