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A Closer Look -- Mom & Dad

Mom & Dad by Terry Richardson
I've never known what to do with Terry Richardson -- even less so now considering the allegations of misconduct and sexual coercion. The character of Terry Richardson always bothered me -- a man who became as much a celebrity as the people he photographed. He is perhaps the most visually recognizable photographer working today. Still, the man can make a good photograph -- as well as a number of rather boring photographs. But the celebration of his work has been equal parts what he captures on film and the character he portrays in those photographs. Uncle Terry is both creepy, and apparently magnetic; someone people want to be photographed with, someone people will get naked for, and engage in activities for public consumption that are typically private affairs. The mere name of his book Terryworld implies a carnivalesque nature to his existence, something that people will line up to take part in. I would like to write about this book leaving Richardson's persona aside -- but in reality that very persona contrasts to make this book so compelling.

from Mom & Dad by Terry Richardson
Now that we have become well acquainted with the persona of Terry Richardson, one that he plays with frequently as seen on his blog, we are given a personal glimpse at the man behind the muttonchops, glasses and plaid. In Mom & Dad, Richardson presents two volumes of photographs of his parents, one of his mother and one of his father. He has said that this was an important reuniting of his parents for him -- though in book form, at least, each remains divided in their separate volume -- brought together only by a frustratingly tight slipcase.

from Mom & Dad by Terry Richardson
Though the obvious parallels between Richardson and his father -- himself a photographer, a joint practice launching his son's career -- abound (and the physical similarities are almost unsettling), Richardson's public carefree partying persona seems to be more related to his mother. He shoots her as if she were one of his young models -- there's even a few topless shots -- she smiles, smokes and flips-off the camera. I've read criticism of her persisting namelessness, that she seems to only be referred to as Terry Richardson's mother, however the love between the two is clear. It may be complicated, but not lacking. Photographed in and around her cluttered home, she is a proud mother, and despite the paralysis, missing teeth and wrinkled skin, she is notably beautiful and wild. The collection of images of Richardson's late father is pointedly darker. Suffering from schizophrenia, Bob Richardson was a talented photographer who flew off the rails and lost his career, was occasionally homeless and lived with his son for a while. The images show both a man who seems to be lost in his own mind, and the world he created for himself inside his apartment, words scrawled on the walls that range from gut wrenching to bizarre. Here, the portraits are more stated, his father doesn't smile, and is nearly always pictured with a cigarette. Like the collages of mementos that Richardson photographed in his mother's home, notes and text written by his father appear in this volume. They depict love and concern, as well as the madness of an artistic mind. It is another complicated relationship.

from Mom & Dad by Terry Richardson
All the while Richardson is shooting in his raw signature style, which works here to make the images more arresting, more intimate. While his pervious work has frequently been a photographic over-share, it is not notably emotionally accessible. This book is a stunning departure from that trend, and interestingly, his photographic style, the off-the-cuff coarseness, putting himself into the images, which in previous work can be alienating, achieves the opposite here. The images feel like personal snapshots taken for a private album. There's a sense of vulnerability, one that feels all the more pointed in contrast with the lack of emotional openness of his better-known work.

from Mom & Dad by Terry Richardson
Mom & Dad was released along side a show of the same work at Half Gallery in New York. The opening was a typical Richardson affair with the ultra-small gallery packed with celebrities and lines of onlookers outside and followed by an after party with rowdy male strippers. I'm not sure this work could ever be properly viewed in this context. It is highly suited for book form and the perfunctory intimacy that comes with viewing a book -- it's personal. Considering this book was quickly followed by Richardson's next publication, Lady Gaga X Terry Richardson, this type of project may be a one-time thing, but it is intriguing document nonetheless. -- Sarah Bradley

Mom & Dad is now out of print, but we have some of the last copies available. Purchase one here.