RIT SPAS Gallery Hosts MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves Exhibition

New illustrated book of same title published by RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press

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Julia Hess and Elaine O'Neil

There’s visual proof the mother daughter bond can look picture perfect—and it’s all right here in black and white. For five years straight, Elaine O’Neil and her daughter, Julia Hess, took daily time outs for a side-by-side candid snapshot in front of their living room window at their family residence in Pittsford.

Even from the start of the project at age 10, Julia liked to pose on the left, her mother on the right, and 1,800 images later, the photographic shoot was finally over the day Julia turned 16 on Sept. 30, 1998.

The end result is a new book, MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves, published by RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press—utilizing the most advanced fine art digital printing technology—and an exhibition of the same title at the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences Gallery at Rochester Institute of Technology. The exhibition begins with an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 2.

The exhibition features 60 life-sized 24-inch-by-32-inch images in a revealing glimpse of the cycle of life and the experiences which build the bonds marking all complex and loving relationships.

“To begin with, this was just going to be a one year project,” says O’Neil, who recently retired after 15 years of academic service at RIT, serving as director of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and fine art photography professor. “But then we recommitted each year and it became like a photographic diary as Julia emerged into her own independent person.”

O’Neil says the impetus to take on the project with her daughter was after reading a study by Carol Gilligan and other researchers at Wellesley College’s Stone Center.

“For girls in this society between the ages of 10 and 13, it’s the time they lose their voice, their sense of identity and become disconnected from the truth they know about themselves. And I just saw my daughter, this girl who seemed so self assured and excited about life and loved math and loved science. I hoped to help her be everything she wanted to be.

“And also at that time, I was in an administrative position at RIT and worked 50 to 60 hours a week so this became our time to physically and emotionally connect for at least a few minutes every day.”

Now 26, Julia graduated from Carnegie Mellon, lives in Philadelphia and works for Boeing as a materials scientist. Her specialty is metallurgy and she does failure analysis on helicopter transmissions.

“Through the years the photo shoot captured the fluidity of our relationship and became a daily record of how life can change so quickly,” O’Neil says. “I look back now and am so proud of what I see—a mother and a daughter committed to maintaining connection.”

Print images of MOTHER DAUGHTER: Posing as Ourselves will be for sale at the cost of $100 as a fundraiser for the new School of Photographic Arts and Sciences gallery building fund. More information on the book project is available at www.motherdaughterbook.com.

The School of Photographic Arts and Sciences Gallery, located on the third floor of the Frank E. Gannett Building, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturdays. For more information about upcoming events, call (585) 475-2884, or visit SPAS Gallery on Facebook or at cias.rit.edu