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Rachel Portesi

These images address fertility, sexuality, creativity, nurturing, harmony, and discord. They’re a response–part intuitive, part deliberate–to a time when the scaffolding of my life seemed to disappear. Does this happen to everyone? I think some of us assume that the same woman will reemerge on the other side of motherhood. I think I did. But suddenly my kids didn’t need me like they had and the Rachel I’d been before becoming a parent was irrelevant, gone. I experienced this as a loss, and grieving it raised questions. Who had I become? Which parts of my old self were best left behind? How did I want to grow?

I was drawn to early photography and its particularly Victorian interest in loss and death. Commemorative portraits honoring the dead were fashionable and in demand. Another peculiar fixation of the era struck me: hair. Art, sculpture, even mementos of the time consistently used tresses of hair as both object and subject. Early photography. Loss. Growth. Hair. I’d discovered a fertile new direction to explore.

These photographs are part of an ongoing series of “hair portraits”. They use wet plate collodion tintype, Polaroids, film, and 3-d imagery to explore the nuanced transitions in female identity related to
motherhood, aging, and choice as well as the intersection of identity and femininity with the physical world.
As I engaged with this new mode, my models became conduits of self-reflection–a way to look at the confines of my chosen female role from the outside. And there I observed a post-maternal kind of strength wholly different from the role I’d inhabited before motherhood. Looking at them now, these images on the wall, photographs of elaborate hair sculptures constructed in my studio to
change. Parts of myself I choose to leave behind. Others I bring with me.

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