Review by Jo Ann Callis
Bertha Alyce is a book about a daughter/photographer's career-long intense
struggle, through photographs and video, to reconcile her relationship with
her mother. Photographing Bertha Alyce from 1973 until her death in 1991,
Gay Block has given us a book that is ultimately about redemption and
This book is so rich that it makes one want to drink it in and hold on
for awhile. It is deep, troubling, and intensely human. The role of the
photographer is touching throughout: all the characters are portrayed with
compassion and identification. Myriad issues are touched on: of beauty,
desire, and class; of feminism and of women's need to be pleasing; of power
and domination; of face-lifts and strokes and whose breasts are prettier; of
women's rivalry; of mother-daughter rivalry; of the control ideology and
culture has over us. Block deals with all these issues with grace and tact.
This book is funny, like Jewish humor, often painfully so. I'm amazed that
it is all integrated without bludgeoning. Often I had to stop and look
closely to know what what Block was doing because everything is not obvious:
as a reader I was asked to make leaps which left me room to feel my own
experiences in intimate relationships.
When I say reader I'm not inferring the text is more than the pictures
because this is a book of photographs that are to be read. It is a
brilliantly laid-out, beautifully designed picture book with the text so
crucially, carefully integrated.
Both essays, by Eugenia Parry and Kathleen Howe's essays are valuable
and enrich the book.