Tony Luciani’s mum, Elia was diagnosed with dementia not long after she broke her hip. She would need care and was unable to live on her own. He moved her into his home around the time that he bought himself a new camera. He never thought about using a human subject but having his mum there and needing to test the camera, he started taking pictures of her instead of his paintings – the intended subjects of his photography.
He explained to her that she was a good model and that he needed her to keep still. The testing of the camera turned into a colossal project that took 21 months to complete and yielded 93 amazing photos. They were all inspired by the memories Elia would soon forget. Tony recalled how she remembered things that happened up to 80 years ago but couldn’t remember something that happened just a few minutes back. She tried to make up for that by telling stories well-known to her.
These stories became the crux of some of the pictures he took. They were spirited photographs that haunted with combinations of the Elia now and the Elia of way back when. He knew that this was a great way for them to connect but it also helped her feel productive since she couldn’t very well help with chores around the house. It kept her busy so she wouldn’t just be sitting around reading. He appreciated that she cared for him and was glad to be able to do the same for her.
She turned out to not only be a suggestive subject but she was also very enthusiastic and capable of collaborating ideas for his pictures. Tony recalled her as always participating where she could and she was giving of herself more than anybody gave to her.
In 1923 Elia was born in Italy and she got married at the tender age of 13. Still a teenaged girl of just 16 she gave birth to her oldest. To Tony, the following picture tells the story of those times, when she was already a mother at such a young age.
She worked in a garment factory in Toronto as a trainer and overseer of the trainees when she immigrated to Canada. This was in 1955 and her trainees were most often immigrants too. For the purpose of doing her job properly she learned Korean, French, German and Spanish to be able to communicate with these trainees effectively.
She attends a twice weekly program with her peers where she regularly helps those who cannot read. This gives her some sense of purpose. During those times she is a teacher again. Despite the fact that she is forgetting, Elia is still very active, enjoying every opportunity she has of getting outside. Tony explained that she has a route she walks; otherwise she will sit under a tree or alone on a park bench. He admits that being his mother’s sole full-time custodian becomes lonely at times but considers the loss of freedom a small price to pay for what he got in return.
Having his mother there to model for him as he needed her has been a great inspiration that kept him working continuously. He found that much less of his time was being wasted. She has given a voice to his art. At first he was thinking about how good a son he was to not put her into some nursing home but rather disrupting his own life by taking her in but he soon thought about the situation differently. He realised that he was getting much more than he was giving.
All Images Courtesy Tony Luciani