What my daughter thinks of me

betty ming liu Relationships 31 Comments

What’s your mom like? My daughter answers that question today as our guest blogger. Taken together, her photo essay and artist’s statement create an honest, profound reflection — which is a nice way to say that I don’t come off too good….

We’ll start with a self-portrait of the photographer. Gabi snapped it over the winter, when she was still 15 and enrolled in a darkroom photography workshop. She was really excited about learning the lost art of using various lighting sources, developing her own film in the darkroom and then, printing her own pictures.  

During the course, each student had to come up with a final project. Her topic? Our relationship. That photo essay is the basis for the post below.  


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Photo Essay: “Mommy & Me”


For the first half of my photography class, I had just been shooting portraits with no real idea of where I was going. Eventually, I buckled down and told myself that I had to come up with something, so I began to brainstorm ideas of what could translate well into my photos.

At first, I decided that I was going to take pictures of people I knew really well, regarding something I don’t know about them, and pictures of people I don’t know well, regarding the little I do know about them.

It was a huge struggle for me to find things I didn’t know about people I’m close to, which is what lead me to the project I’m focusing on now.

One Saturday night I was stuck at home, and decided to experiment with taking pictures of my mom. I ended up using a couple rolls of film, trying different lighting sources, and creating double exposures. I had no idea how it would turn out, but once I started making prints, I realized that this is something I really appreciate and care about. After all, it is my own mother!

There were photos that expressed anger, frustration, exuberance… all emotions that at some point or another, we have felt towards each other. So I scrapped my first idea, and decided to focus on capturing all sides of my relationship with my mom, through photography.

Although my mom and I do get along, and can be happy when we’re together, we spend a lot of time furious with each other.

I think any average mother-daughter relationship, especially during high school, has its many different sides. My pictures, which are all shots of my mother, express different emotions that we have felt towards each other, at some point or another.


In this picture, she looks extremely horrified. Perhaps because of something I’ve done, a bad grade on a test, or a messy room?


In this picture, her eyes are closed. She looks worn out; as if she is tired of fighting with me and is completely and utterly DONE.


The triple exposure expresses insanity, that I have probably driven her to at certain times.

In this photo, the angle is from below. It is pointing up at her face and the typical “mom” look that no child wants to get; it’s the “you better not do that, you know better” look.


The emotion in the photo with her fingers on her head comes through the two muscles in her neck – they are protruding, showing that she is tense about something.

The different angles in the placement of the head can represent her struggle to make up her mind about something; most likely an important decision regarding what she wants me to do, or whether she wants to let me do something or not.


My mother, goofing off.

This is my mom, hiding from something she doesn't want me to be doing.

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If you’d like to see how different mother and daughter can be in our approach to a photo essay about each other, check out this post: How to become a model in Seventeen magazine like my daughter. Lots of glam photos of my baby.  :)


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Comments 31

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    on the last day of the photo workshop, parents were invited to see their kids present their final projects. can you imagine me sitting there quietly while gabi talked everyone through these pictures?! she got good feedback; everyone cracked up at her comments and a few of the parents said that they identified.

    but honestly? these photos take me way beyond my comfort zone for a million reasons. after all, gabi’s project isn’t exactly a mother’s day greeting card. plus, you’re seeing me at my visual worst. and yet — posting her project here made me take a deeper look at her work. it was almost like viewing it for the first time. now that i’m over the shock of looking at myself, i can appreciate how much thought went into creating each image. so, i’m finally truly proud of gabi’s ability to articulate herself. isn’t that what we really want for our kids? (well, um, no….not always. haha.)

  2. If I may speculate from a distance based only on the evidence of these photos, they seem to show that your daughter knows and loves the real you in all aspects – not an idealized image put together for public relations. The whole exhibit, especially appearing here on this blog, shows the extent to which you both value honesty. I think it was Oliver Cromwell who told the artist “paint me as I am – warts and all.” I am not a fan of Cromwell’s politics nor of his religion but at least we are in no doubt about his true nature as a person – a gift to history. This photo essay is likewise a gift to your own history. There are in my home numerous portraits of long-gone ancestors who clearly made every effort to present their best look for the painter or photographer, who in turn acquiesed in their desire to present a certain image. That is why of them all, only one or two could be considered good works of art. All the rest are nothing but personal PR – no more valuable for knowing who the subject really was than is the campaign literature of a politician. If this photo essay is preserved, many years from now a person looking at it who knows nothing of Betty M. Liu will at once identify with who you are (or were) as a fully realized human being. That accomplishment marks excellence in art.

  3. Wow.. What an honest, creative and deep project. I can see so much of you in your daughter’s work. Rosie is only 7 and we’re reading a journal together that I started writing to her before she was born. I thank you and Gabi for the look ahead into those challenging years ahead :)

  4. I like what Toby said about ”personal PR.”

    Betty, your daughter’s decision to capture your relationship shows how you present yourself to her and how, behind the lens or in her head, she captures and internalizes what you manifest. That she chose you as a subject is most flattering. Her comments and their thoughtfulness knows that she is pretty aware. This girl knows what’s up! Gabi knows what ticks you off and knows the ”goofing off” side of you. She wants to make you aware that yeah, she hears you, loud and clear. Showing you and her class is kind of like in a very teenage sort of way asking, ”But Mom, do you hear me?”

    Before I get all amateur psychological with you, I wanted to say that I enjoy these photos and the self-portrait as well. You may go through your ups and downs, but in a cheesy way, to me, it is good to say that you go through it with each other. Pretty special. Not too many parents I know enjoy helping their kids with HW, nonetheless being photographed for their child’s budding artistic interest meant to bare all. I wonder if Gabi writes poetry. Shout out to her for doing old school photography.

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    toby, reading your comment made me almost want to cry. all of you make me want to cry! yeah, art isn’t about pretty. it’s about capturing the moment in its raw emotion. and my baby does it. instead of warts-and-all, she’s got me acne scars-and-all. but you know what? it’s a relief to let out the real me (but only once in a while — i’ll always thank god for photoshop. hehe.)

    cindy, your little one is gonna amaze you as the years go by. and they zoom past us so quickly. gabi is will start thinking about colleges this fall. where did the time go? but i love your idea of a mommy-daughter journal. wish i had thought of that. what a great bonding concept.

    skye, this is the shortest comment you’ve ever posted on my blog. wow. your take is so valuable. and btw, the only reason she chose me as her subject was that she was grounded that night and had nothing else to do at home. at least she used her time well! xo

  6. Deep, insightful, honest but also mature and honest with herself. Her comments and captions sound like she cares what you think about her. I’m no mom yet, but that’s an unusual trait in a teenager, right? Congrats on being an awesome role model for your budding artist daughter. <3

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  8. Mothers and daughters. LOL. Laughter amidst the tears is the only way to deal.
    My daughter left on Sunday after living with me for two months. She is moving several hundred miles away to live with her guy-friend. They have been in a long-distance relationship for two years and decided that it was time to either live together, or give it up.
    “Mommy, I am so scared. What if it doesn’t work or I don’t get a job?”
    Tightly, she hung on to me.
    “You can always come home.” I had my fingers crossed behind my back hoping she wouldn’t.
    “Look, I have to tell you something before I go,” she said.
    “What is it darling?”
    “You are a bad mother. You weren’t here yesterday to help me pack. You’re not emotionally supportive. You just throw money at the problem.”
    “I am so sorry. I know that I haven’t always been there when you need me.” I am hoping that she is not seeing my eyes rolling up to the heavens. “I will try to do better in the future.”
    Gently I wipe away her tears and hug her close again.
    “Here’s a hundred dollars for emergencies. In case you need something.”
    “Thanks Mom…. bye”

  9. awwww, you have a beautiful daughter and it’s nice to see she’s interested enough in you to want to study your reactions, lol. After all most kids take their parents for granted so it says something about your bond that she’d want to do a piece on “mommy and me.” May you always be able to laugh together!

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    jenni, my daughter forbids me to use the expression “LOL.” but your dialogue write-up is brilliant. it made me LOL. i’m only living the teen version of your comment. thanks for letting me know what else i have to look forward to. and christina, right now, i’ll take any attention i can get from gabi. as you point out, it was actually quite nice to spend an evening as her model. of course, it was weird taking orders from her (“look mad!” “look really scared!” “put your hands on your head!”).

  11. When my children saw The LIttle Mermaid for the first time, you can’t imagine how their eyes popped out of their sockets when Ursula appeared on the screen! In the movie theatre, they both yelled, “That’s momma!” in a non-English speaking language, thank God! Disney even got the hairdo right!

    I think your princess daughter has been hanging ’round the earlier German expressionistic film library of late. Mother has been framed as the silent glamorous ‘Greta Garbo’ like figure in chiaroscuro lighting and horror film gestures! What’s with the chopsticks to the nose? A comic touch? Even her own lovely picture portrays her as the innocent victim! I love the happy fear in her gesture to the forehead and warm smile. Mother and daughter on celluloid! Lovely essay!

    Every parent is a gargoyle! They wouldn’t want it any other way. They will grow out of the fear and fright and realize it was always about love, yah? Just keep showing the love!

  12. Gabi,
    Your first blog-post! How fitting that it should be about your mom. It is so simply and eloquently written, and portrayed. I am so proud of you!
    My favorite is the photo of Mom trying to make a decision. It captures the internal wrestling with what-ifs, I-don’t-knows, and all the ambivalences that I know she goes through before emerging confident and bossy. Ahh, how she loves you, and how you know how to torture her. Love you both much!

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    stephen, that’s so funny about ursula! btw, i just tweeted your quote: “every parent is a gargoyle.” haha! and judy, how could you call me “bossy…?!” xoxoxox

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