April Wen is an artist, writer and educator working in her endemic New York City. She is a Teaching Artist Fellow at the Center for Urban Pedagogy and holds a B.A. from Yale University in Film and Media Studies. Her teaching has brought her alongside a wide public at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, and the International High School for the Health Sciences, a high school for recent immigrants to the U.S. She is currently writing a feature-length film about a location scout, whose work in New York takes a surreal turn when her lover and her late brother’s worlds collide.
All images: Hong Lu (The Year I Saw My Mother), 2013, Gelatin silver prints, 8 x 10 in
Hong Lu (The Year I Saw My Mother) is a collection of film photographs of my mother, Hong Lu, taken in 2013 and developed a year later.
The collection was born out of a reflection on my immediate family history: the year I turned 18, I began taking analog photos as a way to physically document a life that for my parents, was archivally interrupted upon immigrating to America. They were born and raised in China, and I, as the first child in the family to be born and raised outside of the country, was privy to few photographs of my family’s life pre-immigration. This collection reflects a desire to document my family life, which was then distilled to an unwitting portrait of my mother. Reflection within the photos themselves happens in my mother’s tendency to see herself in mirrored spaces, inside and out. These mirrors are often fractured in two, sometimes distorted, sometimes in places where faces - painted, printed, physically present - are already doing the work of splitting. My mother’s physical and emotional duality come to the fore in these moments, through gestures, considerations, and expressions of ambivalence.
These contrasts build off the ever present, titular one: a mother made explicit, or a woman simply named. There is little direct indication of Hong Lu’s identity as a mother in the photographs - as her child, I am absent. At the same time, I am always present as photographer and archivist. In that simultaneous presence and absence, Hong Lu - mother, not, both - becomes a fundamentally ambiguous and unknowable individual, with the privilege of mystery.
Text by April Wen