Terry Vitacco

I Should Have Been Born a Queen
photographic composite
24 x 27.5 in.

Andrea Doria
photographic composite
25 x 31 in.

“Meta Mama Operas” is my series of surreal photographic composites illustrating my late mother’s oft-repeated stories and sayings. These multi-layered visual “operas” are part tragedy, part comedy, part history and part legend.

My mother always played the Diva in her operas. I was forced to play supporting roles as her living doll, adoring toddler, obedient daughter and good student. When she was alive, I grew tired of the melodrama, of her struggles and her hand wringing over growing up fatherless in Italy in World War II and forced to move to an orphanage with cantankerous nuns. I was weary of her arias about how she dreamed the impossible dream, had incredible faith and got herself to America and started a family. I was sick of her tales of woe and how we had it so much better than she did.

I loved her so much, but also feared her. She made 4 feet 11 formidable. Arms folded. Lips pursed. Face stoic, not moved by tears or pleading. She could hold a grudge for years. She wouldn’t let anything go. Now I realize that was a good thing, too.

When she died, we inherited a house full of history, junk and gems. My baby bracelet? Really? I knew she was a hoarder, but I had no idea the extent of it. I was surprised at how touched I was to discover what she had left behind. These worthless sentimental items became precious gifts to me. They sparked the idea for this series. I could scan and photograph these musty old objects and create new images to help me unravel the mysteries of her life and make her operas, and her, come back to life.

I miss my mother. I wish she were still here to tell her stories. And even though he is not always visible in the images, my father is there, too, because he shot many of the photos she saved. Whatever memories he didn’t preserve, I had to recreate with new photographs to complete the puzzle. I am excited to share and illustrate these “operas” — images that celebrate the love, contradictions, dysfunction, mystery, melancholy, humor, and dreams.

This series allows me give back to both my parents and become closer than we could when they were alive. I see them more clearly now. I don’t want the operas/stories to be forgotten. I still can hear her telling them.

And I am thankful.



© Terry Vitacco