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Poison Me, from the "Get me some pills" series

  • Accession Number:
  • Artist:
    Kowalski, Kathe
  • Date:
  • Medium:
    Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions:
    image: 8 15/16 in x 16 1/4 in; paper: 16 in x 20 in
  • Credit Line:
    Gift of the artist


About the Photographer

Kowalski, Kathe

American, 1945-2006

For the series "Get Me Some Pills" (1979-1991) Kathe Kowalski photographed her mother, Rose, in black and white over the last twelve years of her mother's life. Tender yet unsentimental, the photographs follow the elderly woman's struggle with Altzheimer's disease while openly depicting the aging human body, often partially nude. In the early years of the collaboration, Rose would pose for her daughter and devise tableaus to be photographed. Later, as Rose's health deteriorated, Kowalski continued to photograph her, although the sense of play between the two begins to diminish.

Each work in the series is not a single image but a pair of photographs, depicting similar scenes or a single moment from different angles. In this manner, Kowalski documents her mother's illness but she also urges us to consider her own presence and her personal perspective. She also underscores the interactions between photographer and subject by writing a short caption in the border below each pair of images. Close-up views of her mother sitting with crossed arms are accompanied by the description, "She was angry at me for treating her like a child," while other images have captions such as "'You're trying to poison me,' she said, 'I won't swallow these.'" Providing the artist's commentary or quoting what her mother has to say, the captions give the photographs a narrative quality while suggesting the challenges of caring for an aging loved one as her mind and body fail.

Kowalski completed a BA in English Literature at New York University in 1967. She later went on to complete a BFA in painting and an MFA in photography at Eastern Michigan University (1980, 1983). From 1996 until her death in 2006, Kowalski was a professor of photography at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She completed a number of other photographic series about subjects such as rural poverty, young women, and prisoners in Pennsylvania. Her work is included in the publication, Masquerade: Women’s Contemporary Portrait Photography (Ffotogallery, 2003).