PHOTOGRAPHY BY LISA SORGINI
TEXT BY İPEK ÇINAR
The economic system of many countries, especially those of the Global South, is a giant illusion. This illusion embodies a form of labour that includes a large part of the population, and whose value is quantified by magnanimity, gratitude, and virtue. A form of domestic labour which cannot find a place in the economy, even though its significance is acknowledged by everyone. This invisible form of labour, the burden of which falls almost entirely upon women, tightens its grip further, especially in moments of mass crisis, while the the gap continues to widen. In her article, ‘Who Made Nature Our Enemy?’, which appears in Ecofeminism, a book she co-authored with Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies describes Chernobyl as a crisis and how it drastically altered women’s lives in its aftermath. Women had to continue living, shopping, cleaning, cooking, watering the flowers, and parenting during this crisis, while feeling more lonely, exhausted and worried than ever before, in the process.
I read this article nearly one year into the pandemic and was astonished by its repercussions in my own life. I thought of my parents, whom I had moved back in with, in the first months of the pandemic. My mother was the person who organised the masks, sterilised the shopping bags, prepared the food and worried the most. Before the pandemic, my mother worked as an engineer, just like my father. Here, beyond the physical workload, I’m also talking about mental strain and a sense of responsibility. Published as a book in Australia last year, Lisa Sorgini’s Behind Glass sets out from a similar perspective and mood. She focuses on the role of parents during the early stages of lockdown; moreover, she reveals the fatigue, anxiety, fear that accompanies this role, but above all, love.
Lisa Sorgini, an Australian photographer and mother of two, found herself confined to her home with her children, unable to work, when the lockdown began in March 2020. Lockdown meant being cut off from the workplace, school, care-givers, family and friends. As with many other parents, this period was overwhelming for her. This was the main reason why Sorgini pointed her camera to other parents, reminding us of the hard work and patience which are often overlooked. True to its name, this project sees the artist photograph models she met through friends and neighbours, from behind windows. This window, between the photographer and her subjects, serves as both a frame, a practical solution to maintain social distance, and a reference to the concept of being inside – a secret reminder that the models are indoors, while the photographer is out. However, this is also the point where the concept of ‘an outsider’s eye’ loses meaning, and the depression that Sorgini suffered during the pandemic is firmly felt in the work. Speaking of Behind Glass, Sorgini says ‘From this work, I hoped to honour and explore the complex position of motherhood during this time: alone without social support structures, but also never alone as we care and nurture our children without the usual modes of reprieve.’ These are the chaos and the burden of dealing with several children at the same time, and the knowledge that mothers in isolation had inadequate access to support mechanisms – they bring out familiar stories of solitude and chaotic crowds.
One of the captivating aspects of the series is that it points to a very complex emotional state. Sure, the main feelings associated with the pandemic have been anxiety, fear and anticipation; but when we stop to think, we realise how much stronger family bonds have become during this ordeal. Faced with the fear of losing loved ones and the cold reality of death, we were also reminded of the bonds of love, often forgotten in our daily struggles, accompanied by the desire to hug our loved ones tightly. It was a complicated experience in which fatigue, frustration and love amalgamated. This hard-to-visualise snowball of emotions becomes tangible with Lisa Sorgini’s compositions and choice of light. The artist succeeds in the challenging task of showing fatigue, love and compassion in the same frame. The warm tones, plain complexions and soft touches that dominate each frame, breathe life into Sorgini’s photography.