This story is part of Parents Are Cool!, the third issue of Image, which explores the myriad ways in which L.A. parents practice the craft of care. See the full package here.
When I was a teenager, I moved to L.A. with my best friend, Paloma. This has become one of the big lores of our friendship, one of those things that would shape each of us for years to come. Not because of the endless nights out or relentless drama of young adulthood but because of the way we cared for one another.
We were still just kids. We could hide that from the outside world, but never from each other. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know what the future would bring. We just knew we had to text each other when we were running late, or make enough food for the both of us because someone was bound to come home hungry. We knew that if one heard the other crying in the bathroom, the best course of action was to have a snack waiting and sit in silence together until one of us was ready to talk.
Paloma and I held space for each other through one of the most intense coming-of-age periods of our lives. And if that’s not parenting, then what is?
The nuances of parenting — the tender gestures of care; the tedious, daily grind of providing; the practice and performance of giving and receiving love; the myriad forms of carving out space for growth; the one-to-one drama of interpersonal interaction; the healing power of nurturing; the presentation and promise of safety; the radical act of acceptance — play out in the pages of this photo essay. Through the lenses of these four L.A. photographers, the idea of parenting is not narrow or rigid but fluid, expansive, felt. The visuals reveal the possibilities of parenting and the beauty in the tradition that cuts beneath the myth of “traditional.”
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Jamilah Lemieux riffs on the L.A. wave of going topless in public
Photographer Liam Woods took self-portraits with Nora, a guide and chosen family member who the artist says helped save their life as a trans person. Fabian Guerrero captured the community of artists who made L.A. feel like home when he first moved here from Texas. Photographer and surfer Gabriella Angotti-Jones found solace in the ocean, which mothered her through some of the darkest periods of her life, and through her sister Isabella, who was the first person the photographer opened up to about her sexual assault. Simone Niamani Thompson photographed families that modeled her own hopes and dreams for future parenthood.
These pieces are but a few examples of what you’ll find all around L.A. — parents who are there for the people they love.
The following artist statements have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
When asked about this project, my first reaction was, “Wait, I don’t have my family here; they’re all in Texas! How would I hit on this subject?” I quickly time traveled to when I first moved to L.A., in 2013. I remembered the amount of friends and chosen family I got to build here. I’m super grateful and blessed to have these people in my life, for they are more than just friends, more than just community. They’re family to me now and forever have a place in my heart.
At times I needed a roof [over] my head, needed money, needed a ride, needed comfort. [Some] nights we could have long conversations and get lost in our thoughts and connect on a deeper level. [My chosen family] all provided that and they all made me feel like home, as if I have never left Texas. Even their families have taken me in with open arms and always made sure I had a place to come to when I needed. I remember hearing stories how people would complain how L.A. people can be so fake and snobby. But I connected and I learned what L.A. really is — and what the people and community truly stand for: love and respect and magic. And as I’m beginning to move out of L.A. I figured this is the perfect opportunity to display my love for my chosen family, [the] community who have been such a big support system through my time here...
Mi familia/my love letter to L.A.
Simone Niamani Thompson
I approached this assignment with the intention of capturing flickers of parenthood that modeled my hopes and dreams for how I would one day raise a child. There is no right answer to “how a parent should be,” but as an outsider looking in, both sets of families had a parenting style that felt highly nurturing, intuitive & skillfully at ease. I delighted in being a fly on the wall, soaking in the sweetness & tenderness of bonds that can only be of a familial nature. Witnessing boundless love and familiarity on such a profound level felt like the ultimate privilege, and I delighted in being let into their respective worlds. I shot both families in one day, and marveled at the warmth and openness I was met with throughout. Simpatico at rapid speed.
When choosing subjects for this assignment, both mothers Synmia & Marilyn stuck out to me in particular because of the important presence & significance they hold in L.A.’s community & beyond. As a full spectrum doula and herbalist, Synmia is committed to honoring the integrity of herbs, devoting herself to her praxis with the hope that she can transfer her knowledge and make the healing power of herbs available to all from a nutrition-based perspective. Marilyn, on the other hand, has a background in fine art and, as a heavily tattooed person, she explained her work and intention behind illustrating a children’s book to normalize & de-stigmatize parents with body modifications & tattoos. It truly was so amazing working with both sets of parents for this and my final takeaway was ultimate conviction in how wonderful their children will ultimately grow up to be, with parents as fiercely committed, gifted and steadfast in their resolve to create beauty and good in the worlds they inhabit. To witness & document two families who were both just as beautiful as they were unique, was a profoundly special & enlightening experience for me.
We all have stuff we need to work through. A good support system lets you feel it, then pushes you forward when you get stuck in thought patterns. That’s what the ocean has done for me. It’s supplemented my parents in my adulthood in helping me understand who I am, and why I have dark feelings sometimes. The hypnotic movement and patterns of the whooshing waves and water force me into a borderline distracted, yet meditative, state, where I can curiously wonder about whatever’s on my mind. When I surf, my problems become a physical manifestation as I literally work through them. This mysterious dynamic is probably why I’m attracted to the sea in the first place, and why I can’t get enough of it.
A few years back I was sexually assaulted, but didn’t open up about it until about a year ago. Isabella was the first person I told, because I knew she went through something similar. After I was assaulted, sex and intimate relationships became a minefield of triggers and unknown checkpoints that I was constantly discovering. Isabella helped walk me through that process. She helped push me forward when I got stuck in hurt feelings and thought patterns. Then she sent me some truly dank memes to remind me that everything will be okay in the end.
Though I love my parents, I don’t think I need to look toward them as my main source of support. The multitude of my experiences and thoughts require the support of many things and people in my life. Each realization or advice from any of my loves helps inform who I am, and how I move through the world.
We all have stuff we need to work through. A good support system lets you feel it, then pushes you forward when you get stuck in thought patterns. That’s what the ocean has done for me.
Having a chosen family saved my life as a Trans person. Growing up, I felt very isolated and alone. But being a photographer and expressing myself through my work helped me to find a community of my peers (where some) grew to be amazing parental figures in my life. I moved out west and met Nora who has played a big part in my life. We both have Borderline Personality Disorder and their activism and education in mental health set me on a new path and better life here. These self portraits together mean a lot to me because they capture our intimate history together supporting one another through our struggles in environments where we can freely express ourselves. They have held me through a lot and have guided me along my journey transitioning and taking on DBT Courses for my mental health. Having Nora be a part of my chosen family has given me a home where I finally feel seen, understood and held. Here I am at peace. Here I am at home with family.