Throughout Mother’s Derangement photographs and text compete—which one is more important? The answer might be obvious given that this is a photobook but DeVille’s titles of photographs read like allegory, alluding to the pain and suffering of an abusive marriage and drug and alcohol abuse that his photographs do not always show or even suggest. The photographs taken by Chance DeVille of his alcoholic and drug abusive, mentally ill mother might not convey her background without the accompanying titles like, “Lingering; Withdrawals and Hallucinations” but that doesn’t make them any less sincere. Regardless of intended and perceived meaning, these are loving portraits with words that attempt to convey the pain of the woman he loves. The work is very personal. It is satisfyingly personal and in earnest, an attempt to deal with suffering. The disconnect between images and words however, linger like alcohol on the breath. As the series of portraits paired with emblematic words progresses, a pattern emerges—appearances are not the same as reality. DeVille’s portraits of his mother make abuse and illness look normal. What’s the difference visually supine on the concrete grinning—as DeVille’s mother does in “Methamphetamine, Kicking and Screaming”? What’s the difference between drug induced elation and simply elation? The distinction is as delicate as the coptic binding of DeVille’s photobook.
It’s difficult to know a subject well. We might know that we love our spouse or our partner but find it difficult to put it into words. We might dislike a certain melody or chord progression of a song without knowing if the chords are major or minor. Or like trying to share the experience of eating a good meal by explaining the relationship between smell and taste. Umami doesn’t add up to steak. Poetry does not necessarily equal love and photographs do not always match experience. Often there are feelings and there are words and there are photographs. Each can be considered individually but only sometimes do the three marry with universal understanding. In this regard, photography can sell us short. Often in photographs, if anything, we see ourselves. Our own experience is much easier to see than someone else’s. Photography therefore it seems, best shared by a small audience informed by similar experiences. It is not as revealing as we hope it to be. It does not reveal truth. At least not to the extent that it is evidence of feeling, of suffering, of sorrow, pain, joy, or elation. Perhaps then, someone with similar life experiences as DeVille sees something different in his mother’s portraits—in the way she looks at the camera—than simply a son who loves his mother with whom he tries to maintain a delicate relationship.
On the front endpaper of Mother’s Derangement, there is a photograph of DeVille’s mother with a young man. She is sitting behind him, her hand is over his eyes, and he is facing away. She is drinking alcohol straight from the bottle. It is in summation, the body of work. Mother’s Derangement is what we know is there but cannot fully see.