Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project
Zeitgeist Video // Unrated // $29.99 // September 25, 2007
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted November 11, 2007
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Tierey Gearon is a model turned photographer who drew the ire of some British conservatives when her photos were displayed in a London art exhibit focusing on up and coming artists. Some of the photos featured her children, often masked and nude.

The stink was quelled after major newspapers published some of the pictures. The outraged few who said the photos were pornographic were quieted down because in order to charge Gearon they would also have to charge all of the newspapers. Naturally, it was still no doubt scary for the globe-trotting Gearon as both an artist and a (single) mother to be accused of being a pornographer and exploiter of her own children.

The pictures being labeled as pornography is asinine. Being exploitative on the other hand is highly debatable. After all, the subjects are children, her children, raw and exposed to the world without much say in the matter. Gearon decided to continue drawing from her family and her next point of focus, her manic depressive schizophrenic mother, would open up the same argument of appropriate subject matter and Gearon's questionable prudence.

The scene that probably riled me up the most featured Gearon, her mother, and her three children (daughter and son, roughly 8 and 6 yrs old, and baby) exiting a motel. Gearon does her typical improvised-staged photos, she spontaneously decides to shoot but makes use of her surroundings, posing and so forth. Her mother sits in the shade of some trees while Gearon lays her newborn down on the grass in the exposed sunlight. The child was already wailing before being laid down and everyone, her children and mother, comment about the baby being upset while Gearon snaps. Later the same day at a restaurant, Gearon tearfully breaks down and confesses that she has reservations how she behaved taking the picture, that the moment just struck her, and that the picture was a metaphor for her, she felt like that child left to cry exposed in the sunlight. To which I angrily thought, "Who gives a fuck how you feel? Take care of your damn baby."

The resulting photo is a powerful image. How it came to be sums up this doc's subject. Gearon is an artist whose family is an extension and a fuel for her artistic expression, resulting in first instincts to grab her camera when her child is crying or her mentally imbalanced mother is acting out.

Jack Youngleston and Peter Sutherland's seventy minute film has many of these moments that were captured over the course of four years. Follow anyone off and on for that amount of time and I'm sure you too could make a doc about their questionable decisions. But the point with Gearon is how her choices (good, bad, whatever) impact her family and her career, the two intertwining, bringing her derision and fame, profit and scorn.

Were it all so simple that Gearon came off like a self-expressively obsessed, callous artist. The dynamic between Gearon and her her mother shown in the film proves that it isn't just that easy. Between the two, they have some extremely funny, sweet, and warm interaction along with instances where her mother, who is at times a ranting and unbalanced, eccentric, yet also given to moments of profound insight, is fed up and feels subjugated. Watching the two interact and the work that results, you do get the impression of Gearon's art being a kind of therapy.

I consider myself a pretty liberal and art-minded guy. No doubt, I love some of Gearon's photos and appreciate her work. But, I was still left very much on the fence about how I feel about her method and many moments of, what I consider, skewed reasoning and shaky justifications. Does her mehtod make her a bad mother and a great artist? Should one take precedence over the other? Maybe that is what defines great artists, the willingness and compulsion to go into areas others will not. Does Gearon stop being Gearon if she holds back? I'll leave you to judge.

The DVD: Zeitgeist

Picture: Fullscreen, Standard. Shot on video, I assume- there were no tech credits. The quality is sort of an in-between area that is hard to peg, definitely video, not cheap, but not high end DV. Actually the bit of roughness the lesser definition adds a nice contrast when Gearon's photos are displayed. The transfer appears pretty spot on considering the source elements.

Sound: 2.0 Stereo. English language. English Close-captioned. Again, considering the source and the fact that it was essentially a two to four man team working on the film, the sound quality is pretty good and only rough in understandable areas where external noise was a problem.

Extras: Filmmakers and Gearon statement/liner notes. Brief but interesting, especially Gearon admitting that she thought she was going to have creative control over the film. --- Trailer. --- Mother Project Photos. Some 30, or so, photos from the work. --- Gearon home movies (8:09). Speaks for itself. --- Deleted Scenes (19:13). Four scenes total, all of them very interesting, from Gearon at work on commercial shoots, chaotically trying to manage her kids while shooting a series of photos with a pregnant friend, and some footage from The Mother Project gallery opening.

Conclusion: Originally my review for this film/disc was twice as long because I got very stirred up and made the mistake of getting into the ethics of Gearon and artists in general. Basically, a lot of wasted breath. Really my judgment is immaterial, so I cut off the fat. What matters is that this is the kind of doc that brings up complicated feelings and debate about many things, like the line between personal expression and exploitation. Simply put, it provokes you and leaves you with a lot to think about, precisely what a successful documentary should do. The DVD presentation is solid. Decent image and sound with a good round of extras. A very solid recommendation for documentary and art lovers.

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