Your Body: a series by Brittany Bernstrom
I find a rough draft of a letter sitting atop my mother’s bedside table, scrawled into a beaten spiral bound notebook. The header reads “Dear Brittany”. It’s a letter written to me, but one I never received. It begins, “I am sitting here in the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep as I am still in shock and utter disbelief to your recent decision to have your body tattooed and permanently disfigured.” The letter quickly digresses from simple motherly concern to something much darker – the loss of my baby sister from 21 years ago. My mother connected my tattoo to the loss of my innocence, and through this made a jump to other losses we had experienced in our lives. She had no control in my sister and father being taken away from us, and she felt powerless because the control she thought she had over my body was an illusion. I proved this when I took ownership of my body in such a permanent way.
These events led to the creation of my series Your Body, which depicts my relationship with my immediate family: my mother, my brother, and my deceased father and younger sister. I began this work focusing on my mother’s reaction to my choice to get a tattoo. In photographing my mother and I together I hoped to give her a chance to accept this part of me and to accept that I am growing up. I found it not only gave her the chance to better understand me, but was also a way for me to better understand my mother. It was not merely that my tattoo was a disappointment, but to her it represented the loss we had all faced. After my father passed away from cancer in 2011, my mother was forced to take on both parent roles. Without my father around to balance out our mother, the family dynamics shifted and the expectations put on my brother and me became more exaggerated. If one of us did something “wrong,” like getting a tattoo or smoking, the other sibling felt an increased pressure to be the “good” child. My photographs reveal the loss of my father in the expression of sorrow my mother wears as she sits alone and in her troubled brow as she sleeps in the family room recliner, preferring this to sleeping in the now empty bed they once shared. The responsibility felt by my brother is seen in the concerned way he looks at me as I capture him on film. Although there is sadness in my photographs, there is also a comfort in the intimacy we share. Through photography I am able to reconnect with my family, and give each of us the opportunity to come to terms with one another and the loss of our loved ones.