Julia Katharina Keil

Days with my mother

Days with my mother


I started this on-going project many years ago when I began photographing my retired mother, Elisabeth, setting out to bring new life into clothes long buried in the depth of her closet. My mother has always been one of the most expressive and naturally stylish people I know. A diva in her own right, her love for fashion and the finer things in life started at a young age. Born in the west of Germany at the end of the second World War, she was raised  on a farm, in a little village and spent her days with her nose in books, dreaming of a ticket out. As her family was not very well off, her mother would spend hours sewing her dresses to wear to dances so that she could feel special and in her early twenties on a hitchhiking trip to Paris with my father she stubbornly  insisted on buying a hat at Le Printemps despite not being able to afford a bed for the night. Fashion was more than clothes to her. It was expression of all the energy and beauty she had inside her, a skin that helped her feel how she wanted to feel and a call to be seen and recognised. 


 As a little girl I would spend hours in her closet trying on and brushing my hands over the extensive array of fabrics and accessories  she had collected over the different stages of her life. Photographs of her looking like an actress from a movie, are forever etched in my mind.  


To this day, my mother wears her heart on her sleeve and transforms a room depending on what mood she is in.  When she feels good, she becomes like a playful child and  the whole world shines with her and when she doesn't, everything becomes overcast with a dark shade of grey. 


Since her and my father retired and moved back to Germany after a life lived abroad over 10 years ago, my mother has stopped wearing the many pieces she has in her closet saying she has “no occasion to wear them” and “Niemand sieht mich mehr an” - Nobody looks at me anymore. It felt at times as though my mother had let a light fade inside her which diminished her self-worth and the innate beauty which still sparkled from her pores became invisible to her. 


I decided that every time I would visit my parents, I would photograph my mother both in her everyday and in moments where we go through her closet together and I ask her to pick out some clothing which represents something to her, for me to photograph her in. Those days my mother would dress up and I would place her in front of my lens, an energy she had bottled up inside came to the surface and her self-worth would begin to heal.


I found that each piece of clothing has a story and holds within its seams a representation of my mother, brought newly back to life in her present day, just like each photograph uncovers an aspect of my mother that is still very much alive and in no way overlooked. 

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