'The Shadow Series' is a clever way to show younger moments in Elia's life. (Photo: Tony Luciani)
When Tony Luciani's 93-year-old mother broke her hip and began suffering from signs of dementia, the Toronto painter decided against assisted living and invited his mom to move in with him. On most days, Luciani worked in his art studio with his mom Elia quietly watching from behind. But one day, when he turned to look at her, he noticed how beautifully the light hit her face. So he picked up his camera to get the shot. Thus began a journey that would change both their lives for the better.
Luciani had no idea how much his mother would take to modeling or how much they would enjoy working together.
"She’s a natural model. I saw that she was enjoying the role-playing. From there, the concepts started flowing and the photos became about storytelling, almost like my mother’s diary," Luciani told the Huffington Post.
Born in the tiny mountain village of Carrufo, Italy, Elia was "married-off" at the age of 13 and had her first child at 16. As part of this photo series, Luciani began listening to his mother's stories and incorporating her memories into the photos.
Luciani told ABC News that his mom "changes completely from someone who sits there just staring at the ceilings sometimes, to someone who’s just having a blast," when she's in front of the camera. That certainly comes through in the photos.
So it was no surprise when Luciani told me that he and his mom did a lot of giggling when they were setting up the shots. In fact, when I asked him about his favorite photo in the "Mamma" series, he told me that it wasn't so much a favorite shot as it was his favorite staging of a shot with his mom.
"The laughter in setting it all up was more of hysterics than just giggles (which we did a lot of with this series,)" Luciani explained. "I always show my mom what I'd like for her to do by acting it out for her first. Arms out, feet lined up, focus on the ramp...........and pretend to fly. She got it eventually, as it took several attempts because we were laughing so much."
Luciani is of course describing the photo above, in which Elia appears to be riding a skateboard onto a ramp. (Luciani elaborated on this shot with side note that "she did a full rotation in the half pike position....arms tucked in..........and landed beautifully on her board. A perfect score of 10."
Clearly, these two are having a pretty good time with this photo series.
What began as a side project has turned into a life-changing experience for both Luciani and his mother. He's days week away from the Aug. 18 opening of his exhibition at the Loch Gallery in Toronto, which will feature photographs and paintings from the "Mamma" series.
The experience has also had a major impact on their relationship. "I thought I was doing my duty and it was my turn to give back,” he told ABC News. “Ultimately I realized that she’s giving me back so much more than I’ve been able to give her. Yes I do look after her, but she’s given me another outlet with photography. It’s a wonderful thing."
Luciani hopes the series will shed a new light on dementia and the aging process in general.
“I want people to remember that ‘normal’ is relative,” he told the Huffington Post. “My mom’s ‘normal’ now is very different from her ‘normal’ 30 years ago. I hope this project with my mom will encourage others to truly see and develop compassion for their elders and not ignore, abandon or shut them out. We need to really hear them, not only for what they were, but who they are now. They are who we all will eventually become.”