Melissa Spitz

American photographer Spitz was only 7 years old when her mum was put into a institution.  On that day she was alone with her mother. Her dad and brother were away.  Her mother was convinced that there were people in the house trying to kill them.  She rang the police to tell them.  Eventually she was sectioned and Spitz went to stay with neighbours until her dad returned.

Her father took her to the mental institution to visit.  The yellow walls and horrible smell are what she remembers.  From that day on, their lives were to change. Her father left his job to move them nearer to his wife’s family. A nanny was hired so her mother could concentrate on herself.  Life was a round of hospital visits and prescription drugs.  Her mum, over the years, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

 For a period of time as a teenager, Spitz found her mum ‘cool’.  At 12, she would her cigarettes so she wouldn’t get in trouble.  She would provide them with alcohol.  She let Spitz use her credit card. However, when she told a friend’s parents that her own parents fought a lot, her mother threw scissors at her and pinned her to the wall. Her mum drank a lot. She would pass out all the time. Quite often when she was driving.  Spitz often drove her mum home from the mall at 14 because she was so drunk.

Her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was around 12. Spitz says she told her dad to divorce her mum.  She said she would rather see them apart than fighting all the time.

 In 2009 she was given a photography assignment to takes photo of something private. Anger made her take photos of her mother. Although she was concerned that taking pictures of her constantly drunk mother was wrong, the years of abuse made her want to show the world her perspective of this life.

Her teacher encouraged her to carry on.  She found these pictures a way of making sense of the abuse she had suffered over the years.  She felt photos froze these times – every bruise, pills, burn holes and gave her power over her own life.

As someone who had a fairly normal upbringing, I cannot begin to imagine how this life has affected this lady.  It is amazing that photography has enabled her to take control over the situation and help herself move on. It is an incredible set of images.

Mom praying to Jesus that she gets better.
Mom smoking in bed.

I really like her style and the way it shows her complicated relationship with her mother. Her photos are clear and raw in their content.

On the whole I had a fairly normal upbringing. My parents are still together, they’ve been married for 60 years. I have 2 brothers and a sister, all of whom are a lot older than me. My eldest brother is 12 years older, my sister 10 years and my second brother, 9 years. My parents were always very open with me that I was an accident. As such, I’ve not really felt like I part of my very large family because I was so much younger.  My mum has 4 siblings, my dad has 8. I have a million family members. Anyway, my point is that I have been left with some, but not major, issues from growing up.  This woman has had such an awful life.  No normal parental guidance. It took many years before she found a way of channelling her feelings through her photos. Her work is very clear and concise.

“I fell down and broke my jaw”, 2012

A bit like Nan’s photos, despite being injured, this lady has her makeup on.  Many of the photos that Melissa took of her are the same.  Despite her every day hell, she still puts make up on.