Life is full of surprises, and some of the best come from the people we’ve known all our lives—the ones that we thought we had completely figured out. In 2014, artist Tony Luciani’s mother was 91 years old and unable to care for herself, leaving him the responsibility. “Mom doesn’t cook or clean anymore, so I’m the full-time caregiver” Luciani explained to Feature Shoot, who watched his aging parent develop onset dementia while recovering from a broken hip. Despite these health setbacks, the two have thrived and collaborated on a series of playful photographs.
Luciani, a painter, bought his first camera around the time his mother came into his home. He saw the device as a mechanism for helping her feel more productive and at ease in her new living space. They started small—Luciani showed his mom drawings and encouraged her to act out what she saw. This make-believe exercise evolved into unprompted posing, showcasing a fusion of both imagination and memory. “The subsequent sessions,” Luciani explained, “began to get more complex as my ideas developed. Her recollections and her feelings became a beautiful story to tell.”
The mother-son collaboration is best exemplified through the series The Strange Ones, although they’ve worked on other projects, too. The Strange Ones features Luciani’s mom acting like a lamp, putting her head through various paintings, and jumping off the pages of a book. It’s a surreal, whimsical representation of how we see ourselves as we age, especially when it’s coupled with significant memory loss. The act of creation has also had profound effects on Luciani’s mother’s well-being. “I noticed how alive she felt by participating,” he said, “her youthfulness and eccentricity started to show through.”