Annie Dlugokecki: The Family Portrait Project, 2006-2007

Annie Dlugokecki

On June 19, 2006, members of the Julie’s community as well as the larger Boston community gathered at the gallery reception for Julie’s Family Portrait Project. Photograph by Justin Ide.

Introduction by Annie Dlugokecki

Julie’s Family Learning Program, founded by two Sisters of Notre Dame, is a nonprofit organization in South Boston, Massachusetts, that serves low-income mothers and their children. While the mothers attend parenting and job-readiness classes or work toward getting their GED’s, their children are cared for in Julie’s infant room, toddler center, or Montessori preschool.

“Southie,” the neighborhood where Julie’s is located, has traditionally been home to Irish immigrants, and at one point, had one of the densest populations of poor whites in the country. While Catholic churches and shamrocks are still to be seen on every street corner, South Boston, especially in its public housing communities, is a much more diverse community today.

From my first days at Julie’s, I felt deeply connected to the work of the organization and to the mothers’ unfolding stories of transformation. Like many Lewis Hine Documentary Fellows, I began my work with the program by filling a variety of roles. All of these jobs, from holding babies to updating software, gave me a better sense of the organization and the families it serves.

As I began to know the mothers and earn their trust, many of them confided to me that they didn’t have family portraits, either formal or informal ones. So over the winter I trekked through the snow with my 45-pound 4 x 5 view camera to make formal family portraits in Section 8 and project housing all over the city. I also interviewed the moms on the topic of motherhood and later pulled short quotes from these interviews. I later asked the mothers to write their quotes on the mat boards framing the 16 x 20 black-and-white prints I had made. Some of the women’s quotes echo recurring themes within the interviews; others speak to the woman’s unique perspective.

In June 2007, Julie’s hosted a gallery reception for the Family Portrait Project at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter in South Boston. The following paragraph is from my artist’s statement for the show: 

There is a special way in which the new life of a child welcomes in the opportunity of a new life for the mother as well. Enrolling in Julie’s represents that larger life choice for many moms. With this project I wanted to celebrate the work of this organization in acting as a vessel through which change happens. I also wanted to celebrate and empower these moms as they recommit daily to improve their lives and break the cycle of poverty.

This gathering of the community around the portraits and interviews was the realization of my original intent: a celebration. It was powerful for me to see the moms from Julie’s take deep pride in their portraits and their words. Some women stood by their portraits the whole evening and welcomed guests, as if they were inviting people to step into their homes. And in a way the moms were doing just that—allowing strangers access to images and words that came from deeply personal places—places once full of despair that now contained determination and hope.

Annie Dlugokecki

Annie Dlugokecki

Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow 2006-2007

Annie Dlugokecki (Duke ’06) is a still photographer with experience in both fine art and documentary photography. Her personal connection with photography, as a means to express ideas and explore personal events, has made her eager to share this craft with other people.