by Glen Erler
“Portrait Of Deena. Orinda, Ca.”
Remembering home is a delicate undertaking. There are subtle boundaries that home and history share and to navigate them, remembering demands us to be unwaveringly vulnerable to the familiar, the unfamiliar and everything in-between.
Glen Erler explores these very subtle boundaries in his debut monograph, “Family Tree.” The series began during Erler’s routine travels to California to visit his family. Matte and dark, these photographs document years of difficult and illuminate moments in his family history.
In addition, Erler includes personal written narratives in the back of the monograph that share context with certain photographs in the series. These personal stories offer an additional layer of intimacy and understanding to an already poignant portrayal of family, nostalgia, and California light.
If you would like to learn more about Glen Erler’s “Family Tree,” you can read Erler’s conversation with Newfound, here.
“Tricia In The Same Jacuzzi. Vista, Ca.”
My dad was so in love with Tricia when she was a little girl. He always held a place in his heart for her and he often talked about how special she was. When Tricia was 13 months old, her father, my brother Frank and his wife Lisa were home with their 3 kids on what seemed like a normal day. Lisa was baking an apple pie and Frank was doing things around the house and had just finished treating the jacuzzi with a dose of chemicals. Tricia had been given a piece of an apple to eat and was wondering around as 13 month olds do.
A short time later, Lisa noticed she hadn’t seen Tricia and called out to Frank assuming that he was watching her. They both then started walking through the house looking for Tricia when Lisa noticed a small piece of apple near the steps leading up to the jacuzzi. They climbed up the stairs and saw Tricia laying lifeless at the bottom of the jacuzzi. Lisa jumped in and pulled her from the water. Frank had taken a scuba diving course not long before this happened and part of that course consisted of CPR training of which he immediately administered while on the phone with the emergency services.
Tricia didn’t regain consciousness and was flown by helicopter to Children’s Hospital where a team of doctors attempted to bring her back to life. Lisa remembers a doctor coming out of the room where they were working on Tricia and explaining that it didn’t look promising and that she was in a coma. If they were able to bring her back, more than likely she would have brain damage and extreme lung damage due to the chemicals she had ingested. Lisa stayed with her and Frank took their other two children home.
Lisa told me Frank sat near where they found Tricia and made a deal with God. He had been having his own personal struggles and said he would change his ways if he could have his daughter back. He would be a better dad and husband. He would be a better person. Tricia remained in a coma for three weeks. Lisa explained that each morning they would arrive at the hospital to visit her the doctors would explain the various problems Tricia had experienced the night before.
On the last day, Lisa had stepped outside of Tricia’s room when the nurse came after her explaining that Tricia had awoken and was asking for her mommy. My brother has been a changed man ever since. From the minute Tricia woke up, she had no signs of any brain damage nor lung damage and lives a completely normal life today. These images were taken of Tricia at her parents’ house in the same jacuzzi where she had nearly drowned when she was 13 months old.
“Aunt Tootie at Aunt Joyce’s. Wildomar, Ca.”
“Mom Laying On The Floor. Temecula, Ca.”
“Aunt Holly Looking Back At Damaged Wall. La Mesa, Ca.”
I remember my cousin Dinah’s funeral vividly. It was held at the same church where the majority of the family went to service every Sunday morning. I sat a few rows from the front with my dad to my side, my mom just in front of me and just behind one of Dinah’s brothers, Freddy, The rest of her family was in the first row. Freddy’s mannerisms were casual as was his posture. He looked down mostly as various members of the family got up and sang songs or spoke about Dinah. At times, they would play various old recordings of Dinah talking or singing songs from when she was a little girl. I remember it being one of the saddest days I had ever experienced at that point in my life and my first real experience with death and how it affects those around us.
After the service, I joined in the line moving towards the front of the church to pay my respects. My Aunt Holly was in tears. She held my hand and said, “Look at my little girl. Wasn’t she beautiful?” I smiled gently and hugged her. She seemed to hold my hand for ages as if in slow motion. In the afternoon after the funeral service, her brothers planted a tree seedling in the front yard of the family home. Dinah’s tree still stands tall in its protective manner in the front yard.
A few years before, we were all at a family gathering for my grandmother’s birthday at the same church. Dinah was there and it was the first time I noticed how apparent her drug problem was. We all knew she had an issue with drugs but to what extent was uncertain. She would often manage to slide in and out of her room unnoticed whenever I was visiting. I’ll never forget when a few of my other cousins and myself were standing around a water fountain in the center courtyard of the church when Dinah walked up to get a drink. She looked at me and reached out her hands towards mine. She asked me to hold them and to look at her fingernails. Her hands felt like that of an older person, dry and weathered. Her skin was cracking and her nails yellowed. She said something under her breath and walked away. That was the last time I saw Dinah alive. She died in her room at the family home on the 24th of January 1988 from AIDS related complications. Dinah was 32 years old.
“Marlene Laying On Her Bed. Pala, Ca.”
Over the past seven or eight years, I would visit my cousin Marlene several times on each of my journeys out there while working on this project. We are of a similar age and only now pieces of her past are coming out. Things I never knew or took the time to ask were finding their way into our conversations. Visiting her gave me a sense of closeness and conjured up a form of an automatic recollection process of our past. Where she lived was so familiar to me and the only place left at that time that was a true resemblance of my own childhood.
“Blue Towel. Valley Center, Ca.”
“Place Where Dad’s Dad Was Found. Del Mar, Ca.”
My dad’s dad died of a cerebral hemorrhage while walking home from work one afternoon. He was found across the street from the house they were living in and what was then an open field and now this storm drain. My dad’s mother had died only one month before. My dad was just 13 years old.
“The Last Time I Saw My Dad. Oceanside, Ca.”
It was hard to get my dad out of his place towards the end. He rarely felt well and had also lost interest in socializing. On this occasion, I was visiting my brother Joe with my kids of which he adored. I convinced him to come over and eat with us and watch the girls swim. He showed up a bit later but blended in and chatted with the girls as much as possible. He ate some lunch and we talked off and on for an hour or so while the kids played and ran in and out of the house. He seemed content and was enjoying watching all of what was happening around him. I made my way inside for a quick change of scenery. My brother and a few others were watching tv but mostly relaxing. I could see that my dad had made his way through the kitchen and was heading towards the front door. He was not one to announce his departure but I had a feeling he had peaked and was going to head home. He turned and looked at me just before he reached the door and asked me to come outside with him. He turned, continued walking and I took this photograph of him. I followed him outside, hugged him and said goodbye. I watched him drive away and then walked back in the house. It was the last time I saw my dad alive.
“Where John Was Shot. San Diego, Ca.”
When my brother John was nine years old, he, along with some of his friends and my other brother Joe had all set out with a BB gun of which one of his friends owned. They were walking down a path in a group when my brother John suddenly decided to run ahead. The boy who was holding the gun pointed it at my brother in fun and pulled the trigger. At that instant, John turned around to see how far behind the others were and the BB struck him directly in the eye. He has been blind in one eye since that day.
“Cousin Hank near our Dad’s Gravesite. Valley Center, Ca.”
“The Middle. Valley Center, Ca.”
Glen Erler is a photographer currently residing in London, England.