Marina Hoppmann and her sensitive portraits of daughters who have lost their mothers
Through Mothers and Daughters, the German photographer hopes to help grieving daughters feel understood in their pain, letting her subjects disclose their memories.
- Alif Ibrahim
- 10 March 2021
Dealing with grief for the first time is not only a painful experience, but one that might feel confusing at the same time. You feel pain, longing for someone who is no longer there, not quite sure how to deal with such an event. You alternate between moments of yearning and vulnerability. How can you possibly start to confront something so overwhelming, especially if it’s the death of someone so close to you? And how do you begin to honour life, especially your late mother's?
In Mothers and Daughters, German photographer Marina Hoppmann captures sensitive portraits of women who have lost their mothers. These images are paired with notes and images from the women's mothers, usually special images from their younger years that hold special significance. Chosen by her sitters, including these images was Marina's way of including the mothers in the series, each pairing the portrait that she takes. In these archived photographs, the mothers are smiling, radiant. The adult daughters, gaze softly at her camera. Sometimes her sitters exude confidence, sometimes comfort. In every picture, however, they look on with resilience. “I want this project not only to be mine, but to be ours,” the photographer tells It’s Nice That. “I like the idea of not only me adding content to this project, but letting others disclose their feelings and memories as well. I think when someone close to you dies, images of that person become even more meaningful.”
Marina grew up in Cologne with her parents and brother in what she calls a manual and creative household. Her furniture conservator mother and her woodwind maker father were self-employed, their workshops located right next to each other. “My brother and I had our own playroom there and we could tinker around with wood and other materials. I really admire how they managed and combined family and work-life,” Marina says.
When she was 17, Marina lost her mother. At this point, she knew that she wanted to make a project about her mother, the pain she felt and the loss that she experienced, but it was not an easy journey to embark on. “At the beginning I didn’t know how and felt too vulnerable to start the project. But I had this strong longing for exchange and felt the urge to talk to women who have suffered the same loss and who might have similar feelings,” she reflects now.
When Marina wears the clothes that her mother left behind, she feels close to her, blanketed by a feeling of safety. “This led me to the idea of taking a portrait with her. With her on my mind and with her clothes on my body. I wanted to honour and visualise our relationship, even if she’s not around anymore,” she says. The catalyst for the project came through finding someone who has also lost a mother on the internet, with Marina instantly drawn to someone that shared a similar experience. “The first woman I photographed was Zsuzsanna. I didn’t know her before, but because of a post of her saying she misses her mother, I suspected that she was in a similar situation, so I wrote her an email. I was super relieved about her positive response. Even though we've only met for the first time, we immediately dived into the topic and had a really honest conversation.”
A few of her other subjects were friends, though the conversations with them were no less intense. “Confronting myself with my own grief and with theirs, their memories and feelings was not always easy. But overall it felt good and I felt less lonely with my pain when hearing others experienced the same,” she describes. Taking the portraits in the homes of the women featured, in order for them to feel as comfortable as possible given the context, “It was a really beautiful and emotional process of us exchanging our experiences,” she says, “while taking pictures in the meantime.”
Though it took Marina a year to even begin confronting this highly personal subject, she felt particularly proud of being able to begin what she feels now might be a lifelong project. She emphasises that she wants others to see themselves in the experiences of her subject so that they feel understood and their burden lightened. “I also want to sensitise others and clarify that mourning is totally ok and no one should ever be ashamed of it, no matter how much time has passed,” Marina concludes.
Marina Hoppmann: Malaika, Mothers and Daughters (Copyright © Marina Hoppmann, 2021)