“Letters to Amilia” – A Visual Story about Parenting

“Letters to Amilia” – A Visual Story about Parenting

Introduction to the series

“Letters to Amilia” at first glance might seem just as a series of images depicting a beautiful young woman in a futuristic fairytale environment. But the story behind it is actually a story about parenting that could just as well happen in any other time when humans existed. More specifically it’s about one of the most difficult choices in parenting: To what degree do you protect your child and how much freedom will you grant it, so it can explore, make mistakes and learn from those. This question is highly influenced by social and cultural norms, birth location, etc. “Letters to Amilia” does not attempt to answer the question. Rather it shows us one extreme that hopefully sparks the viewers own thoughts, self-realisations, maybe even leads to discussions.

As the title of the series already gives away, this series consists of a series of letters from father to daughter. In essence, these are farewell letters from a dying single parent to his child. I’ve found this to be a very interesting way of portraying the two characters, the voice of the father through his letters and the emotional response of the daughter through the images. This allows for an interesting dialog building between text and visual narrative. The way I’ve built the series also shows a certain dramatic build up that again hinges on the texts in conjunction with the images. I therefor invite you to look at the images and read its letter one by one.


Letters to Amilia I - A visual story about parenting

The First Letter: Farewell

The First Letter

Dearest Amilia,
I’ve known for a long time that this day would come. When you read these lines, my illness will have been stronger in the end. You have to be brave now. From now on, my machines will take care of you and cater to your every need.
All of my love, Father.

We start our story with this first image and right away it becomes apparent that the father has died. In his letter he shows some degree of emotional strength (“You have to be brave now.”). Likewise he appears to have taken precautionary measures (“My machine will now take care of you”). Over the course of the series, we will glimpse a sense of how far he went with this precautionary measures however. In the first image there is only a hint of this, like the fact that there isn’t a single person visible in the image, only …robots. Why aren’t there people to take care of Amilia, console her and help her overcome her loss? We don’t yet know. But we do see a girl refusing to be neither served nor consoled and closing herself off from her surrounding, a vast almost palace-like building structure.


Letters to Amilia II - A visual story about parenting

The Second Letter: Creations

The Second Letter

Dearest Amilia,
I know that I wasn’t always the father you could wish for. Sometimes my work and my fear consumed me for days. My first and my last thoughts each day however always were of you and how to create a world in which we both can live in safety. Sadly I only had time to build so little of what I envisioned. Please forgive me.
All of my love, Father.

In the second image the narrative focus shifts to the world and creatures Amilia’s father has created for her as a sign of his love. However there are cracks in his portrayal of himself as the loving father. He regrets not spending more time with her, even begs her forgiveness – notably not for leaving her, but for not being able to complete his work for her. For the first time there is mention of his fears, that “consumed me for days”. What fears were these? And how do they relate to his relationship with his daughter? Amilia herself seems collected and thoughtful in this second image. The symbol of a flying creature is a precursor of her emotions in the next image. In the background we see the shadow of a barred window…


Letters to Amilia III - A visual story about parenting

The Third Letter: Walls

The Third Letter

Dearest Amilia,
I often observed you gazing into the world outside. But believe me, child, humans are a cursed species, full of hate, greed and envy! Our walls are only there for your protection and safety. I hope that one day you’ll understand that.
All my love, Father.

The third and final letter reveals a lot about Amilia’s father’s real motivations. We also finally get to know the source of his fears. He appears to be a willful, driven man, obsessed with his daughter’s safety. He holds a deep grudge against humanity as a species. At this point we can only surmise where the root cause of his rancor lies. His fear appears to be so great that he actually prefers imprisoning his daughter (for life, no less!) as opposed to running the risk of letting harm come to her in the outside world.

In this image we see Amilia in an act of rebellion for the first time. This is also done very consciously. I didn’t want to portray her as purely the victim but also as someone with a wish and rising determination to liberate herself. This is shown by the iron saw she holds behind her back, her posture betraying yet a sense of undecidedness.

The contrasting emotions here are of course safety and freedom. She lives in a garden of splendor (beautiful, well cared for and rich in produce), but the garden lies behind walls and closed iron gates. The birds are her personal inspiration of freedom as they are unbound by walls or gravitational constraints – remember also the butterflies in the second image.

But this outside world is by no means a place where ” the gras is always greener on the other side of the fence”. We see strong signs of industrialisation and pollution. Signs of low human worth in a capitalistic system not unlike the world we live in today. Amilia’s father clearly loathes this world and its inhabitants. Most probably he himself has been the victim of its forces. Maybe the fact that there is never a mention of a mother figure gives us a hint of the root cause of his turmoil. Not a single human beside his daughter is shown within his own walls, a strong sign that he has banished all of them and replaced them with his own machines – icons of loyalty, subservience and meekness. We now perceive him as not just a loving, concerned father anymore but a very controlling, fear-driven, broken and to a certain degree even hostile person, willing to rather lock away his love rather than have it be broken (again). And finally we understand that his relationship with his daughter is a projection of his own emotional experience with the world.


Final Thoughts about Parenting and Overprotection

What can we take away from the story of Amilia and her father? To me what’s most important is probably that last fact, the danger of being overprotective in parenting. Often I was able to observe that the fear of the parent is unwillingly translated to the child. While this superficially looks as an act of parental protectionism, what really happens is that the parent wants his child to be his equal, an ally with whom he or she can share his/her whole spectrum of emotions and preconceptions about the world. In short an ally and friend to banish the sense of being alone in this world. I sometimes cringe when I hear “my daughter is my best friend” – granted it doesn’t always have to be the result of overly controlling parenting, but often that’s exactly what’s the case. I’m very happy to be brought up in a way that emphasised the value of our individuality. Our parents shared their passions with us of course, but encouraged us just as much to find our own. My brother and I therefor have ended up two completely different but happy human beings.

The paternal urge to protect is a tremendous human force carried over from our biological ancestors. Young mothers are often surprised at the power and vehemence of their protective instincts – if their child appears to be in peril, they will go through walls in order to save it. So why did I choose a father figure instead? My goal here was to show that a father has this instinct just as much – although it may depict itself differently. Where the control of a mother is very direct, often physical – a father’s act of control is more indirect, manipulative, rules-driven. A father will see himself much more as justified in his actions where mothers more often are doubtful if their actions are in the childs best interest. This is a dynamic of uncertainty that can become a burden to the relationship. However one also needs to mention that family structures and behavioral patterns are changing, preconceived role-models are blending into each other. But the question of “protection vs. freedom” remains a very active one – and I imagine will remain to be so for as long as we’ll exist as a species. There are no easy answers to this and without the constant exchange between the parents or with the social environment, there will always be the danger of overparenting.

I hope the story of Amilia has helped you a little bit to discover your own feelings and thoughts about this subject. Remember, we are all both Amilia and (at least potentially) the father.

 

John Flury, May 2017

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