This series explores the idea of creating a sense of self and purpose outside of employment and how we think about and achieve meaning in our lives. Simply put, we are more than what we are paid to do. I wanted to portray activities and ways of engaging with the world beyond a job that fuel an individual’s sense of a fulfilling life with value.

Using my mother as the subject as she transitions from a busy executive career to a ‘portfolio’ work life, this project has become an ode to her as she is adapting to new ideas of what work looks like, where purpose and value comes from, and learning how to embrace more stillness and quiet time.

For the staged photographs, I selected situations quintessential to her character and informed by her nature. Each image is unique; to create a cohesive series, I opted for a similar composition and the common colours of blue, orange and green to tie it all together. It became a collaborative effort to get to the crux of my mother’s values through these pictures, reflected in the diversity of settings I placed her in to allude to activities, concerns, and communities in which she takes part and takes pride. The visual language of the changing outfits, particularly her glasses, are a play on the ‘different hats’ metaphor – she assumes many roles, she wears many frames. Work is more than just a paid job, and it should not define us.

Ultimately, this series honours some of the many intricacies of life, in contrast to the feeling of frustration at being ‘unproductive’ and perceptions of being no longer useful or valued that many people report on during retirement or periods of unemployment. The social context for this work is, of course, today’s environment of insecure gig work that my peers and I navigate every day, where a long and productive career, like the kind my parents have had is not something we are confident we can achieve.

My intention from the beginning was to focus on the idea of being present and finding joy in what you already have, as a counterweight to the normative concept of ‘success’ as a breathless race chasing ambition and goals. What started out as an attempt to make myself feel better about my own life turned into a celebration of my mother – who does not enjoy being photographed, yet came to embrace the project and actively collaborated, validating my work and choices. And this is indeed making me feel better.


Lexie Leonard, Exerpt from the garden portrait, holding jars of homegrown olives, 2023

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Lexie Leonard