In spring of 2012, I photographed my mother. In a white hospital room, clean but bleak, with a view of the mountains in Kobe behind the window, without her skin covered with any sort of fabric, without any other person's presence.
My mother was going through a surgery. It was not going to be the most difficult surgery, told my father. But it was the time, for the first time in my life, I felt my own mother dying. And I knew very well father, how much you were worried. When I told mother I will be taking time off from work and coming home to see her, she told me to bring my camera with me. So I packed my suitcase and carried my Hasselblad on a flight from Tokyo to my only home.
When I arrived in Kobe, where I can see the ocean and the mountains of the city that I was raised for sometime, father was sitting alone in the living room. The home smelled like usual but without the presence of mother, it was not the same place.
My father is not a good chef. He cooked for me only once in his life. I remember he "cooked" instant ramen for his two sons (brother and I) and made a huge mess in the kitchen. Perhaps because my mother is the best chef both he and I had known of, he never learned how to cook. For some days, my father had bento boxes he bought from a nearby department store. I know they did not fulfill his stomach.
After we had a bento lunch together, father and I walked to a station. He bought multiple tickets from a vending machine and handed me a ticket. Even before I asked him anything, he said, "I will be going there many times, so I bought a book of tickets." I know he thought about saving money (because buying a book gives discount and he likes that) and I remember thinking, 'What is he thinking? Can we just hurry and go?' After I looked at his face, I decided not to say anything. I don't remember what he and I talked on the train. 20-minutes past rather quickly.
When we arrived at the hospital, we took an elevator up to the floor where mother was staying. We walked on the corridor towards her room and the smell of hospital made me somewhat uncomfortable. He knocked on the door and without waiting for mother's answer, he opened the door.
My mother was lying in bed. She smiled at me and woke up from the bed. I did not know what to think, so I smiled back then looked outside of the window. I wanted to take a break from the painful reality that suddenly appeared in front of me, and stared at the mountains and the station I got off just a while ago.
I started loading film into the back of the camera. Although it was not the first time I photographed someone without any cloths on. It was the strangest experience in my life, photographing my own mother nude. She looked down at her stomach and said that it will not be the same the next day. Mother told father to wait outside.
It was no more than 10-minutes that I spent photographing my own mother. She did not pose, I did not instruct her to pose. She sat on the bed naked. I shot two rolls of black and white films. But I cannot recall what I was thinking during the photo shoot. I was not there to produce any kind of art. I was not seeking for any kind of beauty. I photographed my mother quietly without much conversation. I spoke to her through the act of taking a photograph and she spoke to me by being photographed by my camera.
She put her robes back. She started to talk about the father, about how she is concerned about her husband, because she thought he did not know how to cook or do anything at home. After a while, father came back. She then asked me to photograph them together. So I shot a few photographs this time with a color film. Without any hesitation, she inserted her arm into her husband's arm. I had difficulty getting the focus right (and I later found out that I didn't). I remember seeing black lines on the screen that was getting darker and darker every time I released the shutter.
The surgery went without any problem. The doctor showed me and father what he just took out from mother and told that they were now closing her stomach. Father! You were so worried. I don't know if you remember, but you said, "Something must have gone wrong. Is it normal the doctor asks us to come visit him in the middle of the operation?" Father, the doctor said everything went well. He was just giving us an update.
Not knowing what had happened to my camera, I took the camera to a camera store after coming back to Tokyo. The owner of the store told me that it was probably due to the moisture that went inside the screen.
Mother, I know very little about the world. I know very little about life. I know very little about you. I do not yet know what I would feel watching my own child sleep. I do not yet know what I would feel looking at the mother holding my child. I can only imagine. But I always feel that I am living inside of you and you living inside of me. Your scars on your stomach will disappear when you turn into ashes some day. The memory of you and your beautiful body will continue to live inside of me within me for the duration of my life. Perhaps one day when I have my own children, I will know better about you, a little more than I do now.
There is an artist in New York who I work with and I admire. I am living and working in New York, on the other side of the planet from where my mother sleeps and wakes up. In 2013, he produced a work titled "Music (everything I know I learned the day my son was born)." I am thinking one day of asking him what he learned that day. I still do not know what it feels like to have a child. But one thing is certain, I want to raise my child with much love and care similar to the one I am receiving from you.
I do not know yet, when I can decide to make the photographs from that day public or if I ever will. I know it is not yet. But I feel today, I can make the fragments of eternity visible accompanied by this short writing.
This is dedicated to my mother who is still alive today. I am grateful for being able to grow old and to share the fragments of time with someone like you. Thank you Mother.
2. 10. 2017. Masahito Ono