Fine Art Photography Daily

Gail Seely

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Gail Seely has created a series, God Bless the Child, that has been a personal journey through a difficult childhood. Creating and working on this project, has been a transformative experience, and certainly shows the power of photographic expression. For Gail, her discovery of childhood treasures and objects, and the process of revisiting and reassessing the emotions attached to the objects, has allowed her to claim a childhood, one where she had no control, as her own. These are photographs, not scanned images.

Gail was born and raised in New York and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Master’s Degree in Photojournalism and Film. She studied with Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee and has been deeply influenced by his documentary style and its emphasis on photographic integrity. After living in Boston, she moved to Los Angeles and became an Assistant Director on feature films, movies of the week and television series. She now lives in Santa Monica, California, has been a recipient of a California Arts Council Grant, a staff photographer for The Daily Breeze, and is a freelance photojournalist and fine arts photographer.

Statement for God Bless the Child: My mother had died and while clearing out the house after it was sold, I found some of my earliest possessions. I had always experienced relentless rejection and abuse from my mother, so I was amazed to find that she had very carefully saved so much from my infancy and childhood. My first two pairs of shoes were carefully wrapped in tissue paper. There was baby jewelry I had never seen. All of my report cards from grade school were there. And in the back of a drawer was my baby book with delightful accounts of each step of my life: first birthday, first Christmas, first steps. Some of the most beautiful entries were written by my father; none were true.

For me, this work is the most intimate personal reportage I can imagine, and one I had never thought I would share publicly. It is a visual memoir of my most private personal pain. To communicate my dark, fearful and deeply lonely life that I lived hidden behind these often beautiful objects, I decided to shoot them very simply, on black, using only late afternoon natural light.

And then something unexpected began to happen. I was physically handling possessions that I had often not been allowed to play with or even touch, for example, my swimming medals, my baby book and jewelry. Other things, like my first attempt at sewing for Girl Scouts, an old broken doll, old books and my dance leotard, reminded me of how I had struggled to comfort myself enough to survive. By touching and holding and examining all these things and then deciding how to compose and light and photograph them, I finally made them mine and blessed the little girl who lived through it all and somehow remained herself.

My Baby Shoes

My mother and I had been estranged for many years, so I was very surprised after she died to find my first baby shoes carefully wrapped in tissue paper in one of her drawers. I’m very happy to have them back and to treasure the little girl she was so unable to love.

My Brother

My brother was born when I was almost three years old. I loved him completely and insisted to my parents that he was “my baby”. He was my first experience of love, and for a long time, my only one. His first word was my name.

My Baby Book

I was so glad to find this book carefully kept and filled in by my parents. But what they wrote about my childhood was amost completely false. Perhaps they were describing the parents they wished they could have been.

From My Baby Book

These beautiful illustrations and descriptions by my parents had no resemblance to my life. My mother only gave me the locket and ring when I was an adult. I had no memory of them.

Red Slippers

My grandmother knitted these slippers for my sister and they were passed on to me. I wore them when I first started dancing school when I was about three, and I danced in them until I had real ballet shoes.

My Saddle Shoes

When I was about two years old, my mother took me to buy patent leather shoes. I absolutely insisted that I only wanted saddle shoes and would not wear anything else. I was very afraid of my abusive mother but I got the saddle shoes I loved and wore them everywhere. After she died, I found them carefully put away with my baby shoes.

My Baby Cup and Spoon

My mother and I had tremendous battles over food. When I was two, I went on a week long hunger strike. When my mother finally called the pediatrician late at night, he was so concerned that he came over to try to convince me to eat. I wonder if he thought about why a two year old would stop eating for a wee.

On My Father’s Desk

The other side of this leather frame held a photograph of my sister, and my father always kept it on his desk. After he died, my sister ripped it apart and gave me this half. I don’t know if she kept the photograph of her.

Catholic Girl

My mother who abused me and my father who did not protect me wrote in my prayer books that “God will always protect our dear daughter”.

Three Gold Medals

When I was about eight years old, I won these medals in races at the beach club where my family belonged. I loved spending the summer at the beach, but I would have given anything to be allow to just enjoy being a kid, and not scared if I would swim fast enough to win my parents’ very brief approval.

My Dance Leotard

As with my baby shoes, I was shocked to find that my mother had carefully saved my dance leotard that I wore when I was about ten years old. I loved to dance but one of my painful memories is of her telling me how ugly I had looked that day in dance class.

Girl Scout Badges

As lonely and sad as I felt as a child, I think I sometimes enjoyed doing things with other girls. But looking at how carefully these badges are sewn on, I probably felt that, more than anything, I had to perform well.

Broken Doll

I loved my dolls. I told them all my pain, my fears and terror, my anger. This is one of the few I have left. She is, of course, broken.

My Father

My mother did not allow my family to tell me that my father was dying. When I finally knew, I went to the hospital right away, but he had died ten minutes earlier. In my heart though, I was sure he knew how much I loved him, and have carried this card with me ever since.

My Mother’s Death

After my mother died, my sister gave me this photograph of her that I had never seen before. Perhaps it’s her high school graduation portrait. I added the card from the funeral mass I had said for her because I thought her soul need the prayers. And so did I.

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