My mother began smoking when she was eleven years old, and by the end of her life she had smoked by my calculation 1,029,398 cigarettes. 1,029,398 Cigarettes shows my mother’s life and death through photographs I made starting when I was nine years old and continuing for three decades until the day she died. The project reveals the transformation of a colorful, charismatic woman to one suffering the physical ravages of emphysema caused by 47 years of smoking.
Contrary to her camera-shy nature, my mother encouraged me to photograph her during the last eight months of her life, all spent either in a hospital or a nursing home. The initial objective of 1,029,398 Cigarettes was to make pictures that would move smokers to seek help for their addiction. But our project became, unpredictably, a way for us to connect on an emotional level that had previously been impossible.
The most significant benefit of our photographic collaboration was discovering ways to express affection toward one another. I don’t remember any kissing or any other, even minimal displays of affection between members of my family as I was growing up. But, after visiting my mother in the hospital on a daily basis for eight months and photographing frequently, we began – for the first time in our lives – to kiss goodbye when I departed for the day. Our newly discovered demonstrations of affection were poignant and bittersweet, as we knew she had only a short time to live.
James Friedman is a photographer and teacher living in Columbus, Ohio, USA.