Rose is the wife of a teacher at my sons’ school, someone whose beauty I’d long admired, though I didn’t know her very well. When I wrote to see if she’d be willing to be photographed, she was generous and seemed happy to oblige. We met on a warm summer day, in the small garden behind her East Side apartment.
She had sent her feisty 2-year-old daughter to play with a friend so that we could work. In her arms was her 6-month-old son. When Rose and I first met, she had just published a book about eighteenth-century Scottish rhetoric. Now, she was trying to figure out how she would finish her Ph.D. As she nursed baby James we talked about growing up Irish-American and working-class, how the underpinnings of class get into your cells and limit what you feel entitled to ask of the world. She wondered about changing her focus from rhetoric to philosophy, about finding the courage to imagine herself in a prestigious program, and about what getting a plum job in another place would do to her family.
When I saw the photographs, I was surprised at how the two-dimensionality of photography had compressed her beauty and emphasized her fatigue. She saw this, too. “The composition and color are gorgeous,” she wrote to me in an email. “I feel like I look a little angry and hostile – and I think that the camera is capturing truth. It actually made me do some soul searching, to be honest. You managed to catch an expression of the way I’ve been feeling about my daily life – a little more angry and tired than I would have admitted to, and actually possibly a little more post-partum-y, too. I’ve been trying to remedy what I can see in this.”
Later, she gave me permission to share her email, and the way it depicts her experience of motherhood. “I want to get it out there,” she said.