How can a man that was not a photographer create photographs of his mother that would evoke all-encompassing emotions worldwide?  I was fortunate enough to speak with the visionary himself and gained fascinating insight into this mother/son relationship.

Mamma and Me
“Mamma and Me” Tony and Elia Luciani

Tony Luciani’s Artistic Beginnings

Tony Luciani, a multi-award winning artist, has spent more than 40 years of his life as a painter using positives and negatives, composition and light to create stunning art. His work has been exhibited in numerous galleries throughout his career. Already drawing at the age of six, he was compelled to enter the TV Guide Magazine weekly art contest. He would draw the images and submit them only to have them returned with instructions not to cheat. Since the contest was to mimic the example pictures, and Tony had done so masterfully enough that they felt he had traced them, he knew he had found his calling. His high school courses were heavily focused in art. After high school, Tony went before the board at Ontario College of Art where his portfolio was evaluated, and he was fast-tracked to third year due to the strength of his body of work.

A Candid Interview with Tony Luciani

Tony called me from Canada and spoke candidly to give me a deeper and more personal glimpse into his backstory and present life. He told me that one of his favorite paintings titled, “Wonder Woman” stirred great controversy and that many galleries would not even consider exhibiting it. It depicts a woman, Monica that is not covering up the scar of her mastectomy but protecting it. It leaves the viewer connected, not just to Monica but to the sacrifices we make for survival. Her beautiful bald head and soulful eyes courageously encourage strength from those facing the same battles. This incredible painting is now a permanent fixture, the smallest ever at the Modern Art Museum in Barcelona, Spain. To view more of Tony’s paintings, visit his website.

Tony Luciani Adds Photography to His Repertoire

Paintings of his caliber take months to finish and Tony wasn’t satiated with only putting out 3-4 paintings per year. He longed for another way to put his feelings to art and decided that photography was a wonderful solution. In his many years as an artist, Tony had only used a camera to take reference images so that he could use them to create his paintings. About a year ago, that changed when Tony decided to start playing around with his camera to learn more about the various technical settings. His strong grasp on composition and lighting as a painter was already ingrained in his mind and made him far more advanced than most who pick up a camera today.

Catching An Angel
Tony Luciani’s “Catching An Angel”
Tony Luciani’s “Introspection”

As his mother, Elia, who will be 93 in January, began to develop partial dementia while living on her own, Tony decided that she was too full of life and humor to even consider an assisted living home. So, he moved his mom into his own home/studio, a converted old church, in September 2014. Hearing him tell me about this historic space made me think about the stories that one place must hold. His words, so descriptive and passionate about life and art brought me into his world for a moment and made me feel like I was there watching him work.

"Mamma Photo Bomber"
Tony Luciani’s “Mamma Photo Bomber”
E.T. Call Home
Tony Luciani’s “E.T. Call Home”

How Tony Luciani Drew Inspiration From His Mom

One day, Elia sat in a chair reading a book with her head rested on her hand. Tony noticed the way the light was hitting her through the frosted, diffused church windows and he knew, in that moment, that he had to photograph her hands and face. He grabbed his camera and began reading the light with his eyes as he posed her and took beautiful frames of her features.

Face With Hands 2
Tony Lucian’s “Face With Hands 2”
I'm Half of Who I Once Was
Tony Luciani’s “I’m Half of Who I Once Was”

Her hands and face adorned in wrinkles that tell her age didn’t stop Elia from thinking of herself in her youthful years and transporting mentally back to that time. Tony realized that when Elia would dress up for him to photograph her, she would come back to life and have so much fun participating.  So, he continues to photograph her, and she thrives on it.  Tony says that his mother modeling for him is her contribution to the household which admittedly, made me chuckle. His photo sessions with Elia activate her mind while also capturing her spirit. His love for the woman who birthed him shines through and is evident in the portraiture he creates of her. Elia now collaborates with Tony on portrait concepts.

Internal Reflection
Tony Luciani’s “Internal Reflection.” Dementia tears you in half. Both are her and of her, many years apart, but together in her mind.
A Life Divided
Tony Luciani’s “A Life Divided.” Dementia tears you in half. Both are her and of her, many years apart…..but together in her mind.
Birthday Girl
Tony Luciani’s “Birthday Girl.” On mom’s 92nd birthday, I asked her:

Me: “Mom. Do you remember when you were born?
Mom: “I do. I think it was the same time you were….it was at 4 am.”

In Tony’s Own Words, He Describes How a “Sew Sew Photo” Came About

As a young boy, I would at times bring my school homework down to the basement sewing room. There, my mom would be creating & mending clothes for the family on this massive machine she purchased from the factory where she worked. I would cuddle up in this over-stuffed fabric chair and listen to the humming of the motor, as I did my math and English. It relaxed me. Mom’s house was sold a while ago…and I salvaged the Singer machine, saving it for my daughter on her request. One night a few months ago, I heard that same hum from my studio late one night. When I quietly went down, I saw mom mending away. I relived my childhood for a few minutes. I felt like a kid again.
I call this shot, ‘A Sew Sew Photo.’

A Sew Sew Photo
Tony Luciani’s “A Sew Sew Photo”

Elia Luciani: More Than Tony Luciani’s Muse

Elia received a Nikon Coolpix P5000, 10-megapixel camera from Tony, and he challenged her to capture at least 10 images per day of her surroundings. He set up a Facebook page for her and posted her work proudly, entered her into some competitions and her work was featured several times as best of black and white on Inspire Magazine. From April to June 2015, 17 of Elia’s beautiful images stood out on the walls of the Chicory Common Natural Foods & Cafe in Durham, Canada. This was her first “One Old Woman Show” and I suspect it won’t be the last.

Bruno Posing For Mamma Who's Posing For Me
Tony Luciani’s “Bruno Posing For Mamma, Who’s Posing For Me.” Elia and Bruno enjoy long walks along the city streets of Durham, Canada. He gingerly strolls, tethered to her walker and keeps her company.

My Thoughts on Tony Luciani’s Widespread Appeal

Many people create gorgeous images every day so why then does Tony’s images of his elderly mother garner thousands of social media likes every time he posts a new one? I earnestly believe it’s because these portraits connect with nearly everyone. Perhaps you, as the viewer are elderly yourself, or you see someone who has also or is currently suffering from dementia. Maybe you see your future self or feel guilt for an elder that you didn’t continue to care for. Maybe you are reminded of the good days that led up to the end of a loved one’s life. Perhaps you are even afraid of the end of your own. Whatever the reason may be, Tony’s images are captivating. He says he’s not a photographer but in my heart, I disagree. Feel free to check out his photography website and decide for yourself. To see the world through Elia’s eyes, visit her Facebook.