Photography by Ernesto Bazan
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The First Twenty Years
The First Twenty Years

Mother of a photographer? Am I supposed to say how it feels to be a mother - and on top of that the mother of a photographer? "Quoi"? "L'etenité" answers Marguerite Yourcenar in Le Labirinthe du Monde. Hers is an immediate response even if it is a heavy one. I am not able to give an answer that defines my being the mother of a photographer. I do know that every time that I say good-bye to Ernesto in front of the elevator of our home or in an airport terminal I am crying inside. Each and every one of our good-byes is a farewell - he looks at me smiling, his huge bags loaded with his working gear and clothes - black and white as the images that will appear on the negatives, when the light, swallowed and coagulated on the film expands once more on paper, in the darkroom.

I remember our good-bye on the step of an elevator in a Mexico City hotel. It was the first year of his life in New York. The vacation days we had spent together were over and he was about to go back. I would have liked to cry out to him:"Stay with us; come back to Palermo. Finish college, you have just a few courses to go, you could teach at the DAMS in Bologna. But in that very moment, I acquired the wisdom of Solomon and was able to defeat the false mother inside of me. In that moment, I suddenly became aware that in crying and begging I would be behaving like the humiliated mother of the stillborn son who in her rancor would have been satisfied with half of the son of the adventurous mother.

I consider myself lucky: I did not tear my son apart by demanding he settled down in Palermo in a conventional home together with a pretty little wife, one like the Snow-White of the fairy tale according to Walt Disney. Much better to have Ernesto wandering around the world trying to capture existence than embalmed in the banality imposed on him by the social ghetto he belongs to. Much better to have him the little boy flying on the wild goose who comes to his mother's rescue with all the treasures he has stolen from the evil ones.

When I leafed through Ernesto's album from Guatemala, I had the distinct impression that in those images he caught life itself. in its essential manifestations of feeding, of breathing, of reproducing. - in a word the very act of being. In every image, whether it represents a human, a dog, or a wheel barrow, there is the awareness of the pain of living. The texture of the stones, of the earthen walls, the very connective tissue of the objects become one with the subjects of the photographs. The tonalities of his blacks and whites are loaded with the necessity of survival. I see in his photos the quotidianity and the pain of the human condition. This happened sixteen years ago. Now, looking at at more recent photos, at the black bird tail as he walks on the wall, or at the horse who is joined and becomes one thing with the boy who is grooming him; at the veil of the little girl who, mother of herself, plays at being a bride, I realize with joy that the quality of daily life persists and that pain has all the complicity of an old friend who urges you to fight and encourages to go on. I have written about being a mother but I would have liked to start these reflections by speaking of Cuba where I have been recently. Why start with Cuba? Because, like Palermo, it represents an important moment in his life. It took me three days in Havana to realize that I had fallen, like Alice, into the Palermo of my childhood.

Now I can see that the houses, the streets, the paving stones of Palermo as I remember must be engraved upon his visual memory. The starting point of our walking tours through the city was my childhood home. Sometimes just the two of us, my hand holding Ernesto's, more often with my father, we followed the streets leading to the old Arabic quarters of Kalsa or Albergheria. I told him of my childhood games, I pointed out to him all the little details. I explained to my son everything that belonged to my childhood in those places.

I had named him Ernesto after his paternal grandfather not only because it was the custom, but also because I felt a deep tie to my father-in-law, a grand old gentleman. When I took my last farewell of him, a month and half after my wedding, I asked him to remain within me, with the baby that I had just conceived.

Now I am quite sure that Ernesto Bazan senior answered my prayer. All the memories of Palermo belonging to this man - quiet, learned, wise and radiant with irony - have passed into my son. How else could he know about the Palermo of the thirties? How else could he write to me that in his globetrotting he was encountering places that evoked for him the Palermo of those years? Then he saw Cuba and it was a revelation.

Letizia Russo Bazan

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