Text by Elena Vaninetti
All Images © Peter Puklus
“Everything started while I was assisting my wife giving birth to our second child. When I held her hand in the delivery room I said to myself: woow, this and now changes everything. I started thinking about my role as a father, on how I never had a real perspective on what it means to be a parent in the long run. That is when I felt the need to put those feelings into a work.”
Speaking with Peter about the process that gave life to the book, it is clear that it was not a linear journey. From the winning of the Grand Prix of Image Vevey in 2017 to the encounter with graphic designer Paolo Berra, who in 2018 spotted Puklus’ work at Artissima Fair in Torino and later proposed the project to the Italian publisher Witty Books.*
After a year of pre-production made of online meetings due to pandemic restrictions, finally, the book was printed in Venezia and saw the light in 2021. Bookmaking is an established practice in Puklus work even if he himself admits that every book is different; in this case the work was at first showcased as an exhibition at Images Vevey Switzerland in 2018 and later put on pages thanks to a close collaboration between artist, designer and publisher.
The Hero Mother – How to build a house deconstructs and questions the dynamics of the pre-established female and male roles: motherhood as an alleged heroic activity and the supposed duty of the father to build and protect the home. Puklus’ research breaks down the traditional symbols associated with maternal and paternal figures in a playful yet critical way. Instead of simply creating a photobook with images about man and woman in their roles, he chooses to speak about how he feels in his role as a father. Including the most vulnerable emotional sphere: insecurities, awkwardness and fears.
Experiencing photography as a continuous practice, the final body of work combines images taken in different years, before and after the birth of his second child. Outside the confines of the photographic studio, he develops an original visual vocabulary around parental life and issues related to the construction of the family nucleus. Inside the book, still life images and staged portraits are mixed with pencil illustrations. A series of hand drawings that invite the viewer to get acquainted with the narrative through different topics and suggestions. Depression, anger, transition, construction and deconstruction, along with a clear reference to Gustave Courbet The Origin Of The World painting.
References to art history are also visible in his photographic imagery, portraying naked bodies with the same plasticity of classical Greek statues. Instead the use of black and white recalls more to early 900s’ photography, surrealism and harsh light of Dorothea Lange portraits.
Using the human figure as a means of visual experimentation at the same level as the other subjects in the book – such as tools, bricks and other building materials – the artist clearly separates nudity from sexuality. Preferring a more conceptual approach to the topic, thanks to the use of details and familiar gestures. Every day trial and error in Puklus’ images become staged situations made of daring poses and impossible sculptural compositions.
The Hero Mother – How to build a house, but more generally all Puklus’ artistic production, walks across a thin line. Working to find the right balance between reality and stage, private and public, fact and fiction – and to experience both sides. Fun fact: inside every new book he includes a picture from the previous work as fil-rouge that will eventually connect all of his research.
(*The Hero Mother is not the only publication on the subject of motherhood published by Witty Books: How I tried to convince my husband to have children by Olga Bushkova, 2020)
120 Pages / 16×23 cm
1000 copies / Hard cover
Design by Paolo Berra
Co-published by Witty Books & Images Vevey
Released in October 2021