Review by Kristin Dittrich •
The greatest challenge for parents-to-be in starting their own family is to switch back and forth between a wide variety of roles and to combine them harmoniously. For the man, this means that on the one hand he is expected to be a reliable partner, the responsible “head of the family,” a good lover, an above-average wage earner, a role model, the one who teaches skills to his children, and a representative of the family to the outside world, and on the other hand he is also expected to be equipped with many practical and planning skills. It is the same for the woman: with the creation of the family, she takes on various roles, that of mother, partner, cook, cleaning lady, representative of social relations (family friendships), as well as the person mainly responsible for all the emotional matters of all family members. At the same time, having enjoyed good professional training, she is expected not to be inferior to her husband in earning good money. Besides, she should take care of her appearance and sex appeal.
When the Hungarian artist Peter Puklus became a father and got into this situation, he decided to take a closer look at all these role models designated for himself and his partner. Interestingly, he did not create a photobook with images about man and woman in their roles, but only about how HE feels in these roles: defeated, awkward, challenged, sometimes cheerful, more often angry, exhausted, often overwhelmed. Puklus wants to find images for all these feelings. His main medium medium is photography. “No one can photograph simple boards, stones and wooden slats more beautifully than Peter Puklus,” a young, well-known artist once said.
So this got me thinking. Another older, world-famous photographer – in this case Robert Frank – once said something pertinent about the visualization of feelings and emotions in photography: that he had simply wasted his life trying to transfer the spectrum of human feelings into comprehensible images for the viewer. He said that this was simply impossible. Unfortunately, he only gained this insight at the end of his life, but Frank passed this advice on to young students who were just beginning to explore the intellectual and artistic possibilities of photography. Peter Puklus did not heed this advice of Robert Frank either, but worked on pictures dealing with all his emotional worlds as a man, as a father, as the “head of the family”. Unlike his four previous photobooks, this 5th book has really become very personal.
When asked about the process of creating the book, Puklus said: “The pictures express my personal feelings as a man in this stage of life. I constantly have the feeling that when I walk up a flight of stairs, I always have to skip several steps rather than go up one after the other. It’s crazy. I get from A to B, but don’t ask me how.” This honesty is impressive, and so is how it is rendered in his images. The book has a whimsical way of telling about spaces, things, children and parents, husband and wife. Two elements break the expectations for such a photobook: first, his mother portrait in the early part of the book. Second, this mother portrait is accompanied by drawings by the artist that bear titles such as “Anger” and “Depression”. The mother portrayed appears depressed, even severely mentally scarred. She smiles outwardly, but her soul seems dead. We know today that the depressive behavior of parents manifests itself primarily in withdrawal and silence, in order to give negative, strong feelings no room and space for expression. We also know today that the behavior of depressed parents is unconsciously passed on to their children. The children struggle throughout their lives against the onset of this illness or with the having received this illness.
Peter Puklus’ images are a powerful research journey into his own self. He explores the life of his soul through individual body parts: How do we take things in and how much can we hold? How are things connected to each other? What meaning do objects have? What do we experience in our various roles and how do we overcome overload?
The title of the book accurately states the book’s guiding theme: The Hero Mother. How to Build a House. The man builds the house. The mother is responsible for the children. Who shows them how it’s done? Who models it to young people? We live in a society where young people start families, but they are left to fend for themselves. Who shows them how to raise children or build a house? So they believe that if everyone does a bit of everything and tries it all out, then things will succeed. Then the house will succeed, then the children will succeed. They don’t. And if they do, then only with a lot of time to learn something, to build a house, to raise children. Give people time for personal development of their abilities. Time means giving up a lot of things and focusing on just a few essentials in your life. Peter Puklus has even written a doctoral thesis on the use of time in photography. We will get to see and read a lot of exciting things from him in the future.
Why should you buy this book? The images develop their own narrative as you follow them. If you want to read visual literature on the topic of the “generation of parents between 30 and 40,” Peter Puklus presents an authentic and metaphor-laden book about the complex emotional life of a man in the middle of this life. Contemporary personal photographic storytelling at its finest.
This book was selected as one of the Interesting Artist and Photographic Books for 2021 by the staff of the PhotoBook Journal.
Kristin Dittrich – Art Critic, Mentor, and Director of the Shift School for Contemporary Photography in Vienna (Austria) and Dresden (Germany).
Peter Puklus – The Hero Mother. How to Build a House
Photographer: Peter Puklus (born in Romania; lives in Budapest, Hungary)
Hardcover, fabric, illustrated, sewn; 120 pages; 16 x 23 cm; printed and bound in Italy by Grafiche Veneziane
Photobook Designer: Paolo Berra, Turin, Italy
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).