Tony Luciani first fell in love with photography after his mother, Elia, fell and broke her hip.
While she was recuperating, it became obvious that her recollection was perceptibly deteriorating, so her brother proposed moving her into a retirement home. But Tony, a full-time painter who worked from home, wouldn’t hear of it. He knew that he should be the one to care for her.
Coincidentally, it was around that time that Tony bought a camera to take photos of his artwork.
One day, he was trying out the camera, taking photos in a mirror, when his mom came up to use the bathroom. He informed her, “Five more minutes, ” but after that turned into an hour, he noticed his mommy peeking around the corner to see if he was done yet. He caught it on camera.
“Then she jump-start out in front and set her hands up in the air and started going ‘blah blah blah blah! ‘ and then waved, ” says Tony. “And I envisioned, ‘Oh my deity, this is so great.'”
The hilarious encounter was the catalyst for Tony’s first photo series, “Mamma: In the Meantime.”
The collaboration between mother and son was a most symbiotic relationship. It reignited Elia’s sense of purpose and Tony had an eager, full-time modeling at his disposal.
“It got to the point where I’d be painting and she’d “re coming” to me and say, ‘OK, I’m carried. Let’s do some portraits, ‘” Tony recalls.
The series was meant to be an homage to her life as well as the struggles of living with dementia. Her memory was leaving her, so he wanted to record as much as she could recollect before it was totally lost.
“She’d tell me these stories, and I would jot the ideas down and come up with visuals in my head, ” Tony says.
“What she recollects most is when she was a little girl, ” he continues. “She doesn’t remember what happened 10 minutes ago, but she does recollect what happened 70, 80 years ago.”
Hearing the stories of her youth was specially rewarding for Tony because when he was a kid, she had worked long hours in a stitch mill, so he didn’t get at spend much hour with her . However, her dedication to her occupation always impressed him.
Elia was in charge of her entire storey which included 50 sewers who spoke a number of different languages. She actually took it upon herself to learn eight or nine languages just so she could properly communicate with them.
But despite all her language prowess, she’d never genuinely traveled. So Tony took her on a world tour — through photos.
While they didn’t actually travel to far-away places — thanks to image editing software — they may as well have, considering the fun they had get the kills.
“The process of getting the end results is what I remember the most, ” Tony says. “The laughter and the giggling and the craziness.”
And as the photos present, his mama had a great time too.
“She seemed worthy again, ” Tony says. “Like her life wasn’t over. And her life isn’t over — and she’s proved that over and over again.”
While caring for his mother hasn’t always been easy for Tony, what he got in return far outweighed any inconvenience.
Aside from a number of incredible photo series and his mom’s recollections beautifully commemorated, Tony has also connected with many other people who’ve either been caregivers or are about to become caregivers.
It all came out of the simple act of posting his photos in photography meetings to get feedback on how he could improve his technique.
“I had photographers saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I had done that with my mother or grandmother, but I will do that with my aunt or the other loved one.’ I imagine I fostered people only by posting my photos.”
Sadly, Elia no longer remembers her son’s epithet, but Tony is so grateful for the three years he got to expend saying goodbye to her.
“My dad died, and I wasn’t there, ” Tony says. “My brother passed away 15 years ago, and I wasn’t there. I never had the chance to say goodbye. This is my chance to say goodbye, even though she might outlive us all.”
When children become their parents’ caregivers, there can be many challenges, even if they don’t have a degenerative illnes like dementia. It can become easy to view them as a stressor or an inconvenience.
Tony’s experience with his mother bears witness to what happens when you don’t do that. When you listen to your aging loved one and try to find a way to connect with them again, it can change everything.
Even if you don’t create art, international efforts will leave you with incredible new memories — the likes of which you may have never imagined.