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© Juuso Westerlund

Poems I didn’t know how to write

Heartbeats is a photographic, creative response to the experience of watching my children grow up. Each photograph dense with concentrated personal significance, the series as a whole unfolds as a collection of memories. Heartbeats is an expression of love where words fail. The photographs are poems, which I didn’t know how to write. Poems of boyhood, longing, innocence, vulnerability, mortality.” The work seeks to address questions that are fundamental to human experience, the answers to which we might have lost touch with as we’ve become older – “What does childhood mean, how does it feel to be a child?”

I’m older now than my father was when he died of alcoholism at the age of 41. At the time I was nine years old. About the same age as my two sons are now. I have only vague memories of him. Memories which are not that pleasant. He wasn’t a bad person but he just wasn’t a dad for me either. Maybe he just didn’t know how to be one. His relationship with his own father was quite problematic. I remember crying when my mother told me about his death, but that was the only time. I felt numb. I didn’t feel anything. As harsh as it may sound, I guess he didn’t really mean much to me.

Heartbeats uphold the wonder of the ordinary. With children everything is chaos, and from that chaos, I try to recognise those moments that all parents witness. Not necessarily anything unique, but moments and feelings that resonate with something that I find significant in growing up. I am forging tangible memories that are steeped in the essence of my sons’ experience of childhood and my own experience of being a father. Hugs, smiles, cries, fears, joys. The chaos, the endless tiredness, the pure happiness. The feeling of touching their hair and drawing to their backs with a finger. Their hearts are beating so close, it feels like mine.

Susan Sontag says: “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”

Photographing my boys is my way to seize the moment. Although I’m documenting their childhood, it is my memories that I’m salvaging. For myself.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive

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