Marco Massa's mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's while he was in his early teens, although she didn't reveal her diagnosis to him initially. He knew that something was wrong, but didn't know exactly what it was and how to cope with it, so he distanced himself from her.
Massa's project "Oltremare" is about rebuilding his relationship with his mother – learning not only about her struggles with the disease, but about her as a person. The project reflects on the emotional and psychological effects on the person suffering as well as their family and friends.
VICE: Hi Marco, can you tell me more about 'Oltremere' and how it relates to your mother?
Marco Massa: Oltremare is a shade of blue – in English, I think it is Ultramarine. It's not only my mother's favourite colour but in a way it is a metaphor for how impossible it is for anyone else except for the person suffering to fully, truly understand what it means to be in that situation. I am using this colour because it's the shade of blue that you can only see at the horizon when you are standing on the beach. All of the other shades of blue in between separate you from the Oltremare. The ultramarine is their reality that we can only try to observe from afar.
At what point did you decide to document your mother and her disease?
I've always photographed my family in general, but I think I was more scared about photographing my mother than going anywhere in the world. Just because I didn't want to embarrass her. I know how strong she is and I wanted her to be seen as such. So I really had to play with the idea of photographing her at first.
How has this project affected your relationship?
It's helped more than I could ever imagine. Many of the things she was feeling, I knew nothing about. By the act of photographing her, I had to be close to her and spend a lot of time with her. Even in the most difficult moments. I learned a lot and she learned a lot too. She learned to really see how special she is. I got to learn about her life and her as person, as well as the disease. We stopped being just mother and son, and instead became friends.
Do you think this project will be helpful to other people suffering from Parkinson's and the people around them?
Just this morning I received a message from a person who visited my website. She told me that her mother is 61 and also has Parkinson's disease, and that my pictures spoke to her heart. That's what I want the pictures to do, I want them to represent the emotions someone has to go through when someone close to them has the disease. My Mother is also 61, so that was a really emotional moment for me.
What do you hope people can learn about Parkinson's from your project?
First of all, I want people to know that it's not a disease you can see and understand. There's so much going on, especially because of the treatment. There is no cure at the moment, and the treatment has a lot of side effects. I want people to see how complex a person's psychology is when they don't recognise their body. Parkinson's is very unpredictable through the day – you can feel excited and energised for a couple of hours and then almost paralysed and depressed for the next. This doesn't allow the people affected to really have an identity.