James Friedman: 1,029,398 Cigarettes
Documenting those we love can be a slippery slope. How honest is our telling, how true our interpretations? Photographer James Friedman, whose work is always truthful with a sense of irony and humor, spent a lifetime looking at this mother through the lens of a participant observer, one step just outside of the action allowing for a critical study of the woman who shaped his life with the ubiquitous cigarette in hand. These honest portraits expand the family album and reveal a deeper connection between photographer and subject, between mother and son. 1,398,029 Cigarettes was featured in the Addis Foto Fest 2016 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in December 2016. This project was one of six from the Americas to be included in the exhibition Jim’s series, 12 Nazi Concentration Camps, was exhibited at the Skirball Museum as part of FotoFocus 2016 in Cincinnati from October 13, 2016-January 29, 2017 and was featured in the following ways on prominent online publications, newspaper, television and radio interviews.
Using his family’s Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera, James Friedman took his first photograph as a five-year-old – commencing an immediate and lifelong passion for photography as a means of expression and a way of both seeing and interacting with the world. Of his initial attempts at photography, he has said, “When I looked through the camera’s viewfinder as a child, a world that could be confusing and sometimes fearsome seemed harmonious and balanced.”
Friedman is grateful to have had as mentors two luminaries of 20th-century photography, Minor White and Imogen Cunningham, who taught him not only technique and vision but also how to devote his life to the medium.
He is the recipient of the Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship, the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio and eight photographer’s grants and fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council.
Friedman lives in Columbus, Ohio where he is a prolific and award-winning photographer and teacher, offering workshops, mentoring, private instruction and portfolio reviews worldwide. He welcomes commissioned projects or other initiatives that may include photography, book projects, curatorial work and picture editing.
My mother began smoking when she was eleven years old, and by the end of her life she had smoked by my calculation 1,029,398 cigarettes. 1,029,398 Cigarettes shows my mother’s life and death through photographs I made starting when I was nine years old and continuing for three decades until the day she died. The project reveals the transformation of a colorful, charismatic woman to one suffering the physical ravages of emphysema caused by 47 years of smoking.
Contrary to her camera-shy nature, my mother encouraged me to photograph her during the last eight months of her life, all spent either in a hospital or a nursing home. The initial objective of 1,029,398 Cigarettes was to make pictures that would move smokers to seek help for their addiction. But our project became, unpredictably, a way for us to connect on an emotional level that had previously been impossible.
The most significant benefit of our photographic collaboration was discovering ways to express affection toward one another. I don’t remember any kissing or any other, even minimal displays of affection between members of my family as I was growing up. But, after visiting my mother in the hospital on a daily basis for eight months and photographing frequently, we began – for the first time in our lives – to kiss goodbye when I departed for the day. Our newly discovered demonstrations of affection were poignant and bittersweet, as we knew she had only a short time to live.
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