Mens sana in corpore sano. Most of us are thinking about this phrase more or less consciously on a daily basis. Trying to eat healthier, exercise more (stay fit), visit places with fresher air as often as we can.

And most of us, every now and then, try to feed  our minds as well. Options are numerous and various when it comes to this part as well. Every once in a while we indulge ourselves in reading a good book, or go to the theatre or the opera, or to a concert with a singer or band we’ve waited long enough to see live, or we might as well enjoy a good old movie.

And whenever we feel our mind needs to be fed some more visuals we usually end up visiting a museum. Now don’t go asking why if a museum (doesn’t really matter which one, it could be any museum around the world) offers  free entrance at the same time as the shopping area (in any city) has sales written in several  languages just to make sure everyone gets the idea, the museum corridors are serene (lucky the ones visiting) and half-empty while the shopping area looks like a video game.

Recently while looking up some museums in Europe, I ended up finding – no, not a painting nor a sculpture – but a photograph. You know, that moment you launch yourself in a quest, not entirely knowing what it is you’re looking for, but when you bump into it you stop typing away or clicking or browsing or whatever, and just look. And see. And because photography is an art form as good as any other you feel you’re completely entitled to read into it (or see) whatever you want to. And in my humble opinion this does not happen very often while looking at a photo. Because that photograph was not painted by let’s say an abstract painter. A photograph’s ultimate goal is to capture a precise image at a precise moment. But I guess that’s how some end up in museums; the image becomes timeless.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled, 1992. MAMAC Museum, Nice, France. Photo: Unni Holtedahl

Barbara Kruger, Untitled, 1992. MAMAC Museum, Nice, France. Photo: Unni Holtedahl

So that’s how I ended up staring in awe at Alexander Rodchenko’s The Stairs. Now you would expect me to carry on and tell you some more about the technical details of this photograph, the story the photographer had in mind, the reasons he might’ve had for capturing that precise moment. Well, I wont. Because with my mind’s eyes the story can be only one. It is the story of motherhood.

The woman can be any mother, the moment can be any moment from when the woman’s shorter skirts came into fashion until the present. The child can be any child. It tells the story of a mother carrying her child up the stairs, safely tucked in her arms. Surely we can go on with our observations, she has a bag (like any other bag) in her left hand, probably containing food for supper, and she seems to be in a rush (oh, why does this rush look so familiar).

And she’s strong. One would assume  the bag is quite heavy yet she does not seem to hesitate one bit. Holding tight to her most precious cargo and climbing…With each step comes another and which each step she becomes stronger and more determined. She’s looking up. To the future. Whatever the future holds she does not know with certainty.

What she does know is that she will never stop climbing, never stop looking forward, never stop holding in her arms. And when those arms will no longer  be wide enough she will have her bigger hand to hold the smaller one. To guide, to teach (all the things she knows and those she has yet to discover), to listen to , to love, to walk or climb hand in hand. And she would want, no doubt about it, to somehow try to make this or that world a better place simply by raising her child. Isn’t this what motherhood is all about?


Text by Sorana Popescu, January 2016.

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