It was a very intense time. My marriage had broken down. I was in my thirties and the plan was to go back to school to graduate and get a teaching job, maybe in a high school. I took a course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Creative Photo Lab, started by American photographer Minor White.
I had met Rob, but he had gone to South America with a friend. So for the first six months I was alone with the kids. Rob is a little younger than me, halfway between being old enough to be their father and not old enough. This complicates the merger. But we managed to make it last.
As soon as I graduated, I found a job in a black and white photo lab, then worked as a photo technician. After that, I got a teaching job at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where I taught for 25 years. I did a lot of research on women who were photographers and mothers, and how they balanced work and children. They all had the ambition – like me – to be artists. I was looking for models. Years ago, feminist art activists, the Guerrilla Girls, came to Wellesley. I asked how many of them had children. Some did, but none had more than two.
I started taking these group photos every time the kids went out for two weeks with their dad to visit their grandparents in Illinois. When they’re gone that long, you want a little reminder, a talisman. I was shooting on a 4 × 5 Polaroid film and making small prints to use as bookmarks. This meant that I always had the children with me.
The departures these portraits marked presaged those greatest departures – to grow up and live your own life. The last time we were all together was summer 2019. We forgot to take a picture. It is not necessary any more. At some point, when I’m gone, my work will be their family album. Hope they like all of the images we took. They were always free not to participate. There is a photo of Laura which is one of the few laughing images that I really like – laughing photos that look real are hard to come by. Years later, we looked at it and I said, “Oh, I love this one. You are so happy! And she said, “I was not happy. I had just broken up with my boyfriend.
With your children, some things are difficult to understand and some things are kept secret. As a mom, you want to know, but sometimes it’s better not to ask.
• Pleasant Street by Judith Black is published by Stanley / Barker.
CV de Judith Black
Née: Salina, Kansas, 1945.
Formation: MA, Creative Photo Lab, MIT.
The influences: “So many women who are both photographers and mothers, from Julia Margaret Cameron to Melissa Shook.
High point: “Receive a Guggenheim scholarship in 1986.”
Low point: “No more Polaroid Type 55 film.”
Superior Council: “Robert Frank’s advice: keep going. “