America: Man Takes Pictures Of His Naked Mother Having Sex And Calls It Art

Oct. 14, 2013

An attractive middle-aged woman, naked bar a pair of red high heels, poses as if for a porn shoot, her legs spread wide and a defiant look in her eyes. In another photograph, the woman is naked and laughing, entangled with a younger male lover. Elsewhere, in furtive black-and-white shots, she is pictured having sex with various – mostly younger – men. These are some of the more provocative photographs from Leigh Ledare’s series Pretend You’re Actually Alive – and, even without knowing their full context, they are not for the easily offended.

What shifts them from the provocative to the shocking is the single word in many of the captions: mum. We may have grown used to photographers like Nan Goldin and Larry Clark mapping out their often hardcore personal lives. But Ledare, a soft-spoken American, has taken this to a new extreme, capturing the exhibitionist sexuality of his own mother.

The work, which I came across when it was published in book form in 2008, comprises images of his mother Tina; his own adolescent diary entries; ads she placed in the Seattle Weekly for “a generous, wealthy husband (not someone else’s) who wants his own private dancer”; plus moving descriptions of her troubled relationship with her sons and former husband; and, most intriguingly, ageing.

His decision to chronicle his troubled relationship with his mother, he says, started when he returned home one Christmas. “I arrived home not having seen her for a year and a half,” he recalls. “She knew I was coming and opened the door naked.” When Leigh walked in past the bedroom, “a young man, almost exactly my age, was sprawled out naked. He rolled over to see me, saying hello, before rolling back over and returning to sleep.” Ledare interpreted this welcome as “her way of announcing to me what she was up to, at this period in her life – almost as though to say, ‘Take it or leave it.’ I had a camera and began making photos of her then. She was the catalyst.” Read full on Guardian UK