My mother began smoking when she was eleven years old and, by the end of her life, she had smoked nearly 1,029,398 cigarettes. 1,029,398 Cigarettes shows the life and death of my mother through photographs I made starting when I was nine years old and continuing for three decades, until her death. The project reveals the transformation of a charismatic woman to one suffering the physical ravages of emphysema caused by forty-seven 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. While the initial objective of 1,029,398 Cigarettes was to make pictures that would move smokers to seek help for their addiction, 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 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.