Photographer Maggie Steber takes an intimate look at her mother's dementia and their journey together at the end of her life.
Maggie Steber was an only child. Madje Steber was a single parent. They were all the family they had and it wasn’t easy.
Madje was divorced by the time Maggie was just six months old. Strong and independent, Madje raised her daughter in Austin, Texas. She had a keen awareness about what others might be thinking at a time when being a young single mother was often viewed as a scarlet letter. Their tiny house had strict rules and a formality that rubbed Maggie the wrong way, especially during her teenage years. Their relationship was strained with arguments and threats to move out. At the age of twenty-one, Maggie finally did.
“I had to leave,” Maggie says. “I went to New York to seek my fortune, and there I found it.”
Maggie became an internationally acclaimed photojournalist. She covered everything from fashion to war and completed stories in 62 different countries. She worked routinely for National Geographic, was the Director of Photography for the Miami Herald and taught at various universities and workshops.
As the years passed and Madje grew older, her memory began to fade. Maggie tried to help, but her busy career kept her away from Texas. She was only able to visit a few times a year. To this day, Maggie wonders if she did enough for her aging mother.
Eventually it became apparent that Madje had dementia.
The disease proved relentless and Madje could not live alone anymore. Maggie was faced with an issue that more and more Americans must deal with as the massive baby-boomer population grows older. Maggie moved her mother to Miami to care for her. “This is my last chance to do it right,” Maggie says.
Over the next few years, Maggie turned her professional eye on her own life, documenting Madje’s life in an assisted living facility. The images she took during this time speak to the pain of loss, the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship and the fragility of life. They reveal beauty in a liberation from the roles Maggie and Madje had learned to play as mother and daughter. They speak to both the harsh and humorous realities of life with a diminished parent and contain lessons for all of us as we face these issues in our own lives.
“This body of work is the most important one I have ever done,” says Maggie, “and will ever do. It’s Madje’s story, but really and truly, it’s my story.”
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