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Danielle Delph had always wondered if she and her mother would be best friends if they had grown up together, so when she Photoshopped herself into her mom’s vintage photos, she convinced herself that they’d have been great friends at the same age.
A Portland, Oregon art director, Delph told TODAY.com she got the idea for her “If I Had Known My Mother Back Then” project while she was scrolling through photos on Instagram and found a vintage photo of someone’s mother. It made her think of her mother, Janis Thomas, who grew up in Kentucky and later moved to Florida.
“I think it’s one of those ideas that people have at any point in life,” she said. “You grow up and you say, ‘Oh, I wonder if my mom would have thought that was fun,’ or ‘What was she like when she was my age? What would she have done?’”
The project took about six months to complete, partly because photos were being mailed one batch at a time from her mother’s home in Florida. Complicating matters was the fact that many of her mom’s photos were ruined when Hurricane Ivan tore through Florida in 2004. Delph also reached out to family and friends to send additional photos of herself as a child. But once she paired enough photos of her mother’s Lexington, Kentucky, upbringing that reflected her and her mother’s mutual sensibility, the rest of the process moved pretty quickly.
“I just kind of went through and found moments when we were acting similarly, or we were interacting or making eye contact, or at a similar event,” Delph said.
Imagining how she and her mom would interact on Christmas morning, Delph said she could picture the two of them playing. According to her, “That napkin is actually part of my mom’s photo, and in my photo, I’m actually drawing, so it looks like I’m drawing on her napkin.”
Delph matched two photos of her and her mom in costume. “We’re just hangin’ out,” she said. “I like this one, because you can see a physical connection. My arm’s around her; her arm’s on top of mine. It looks like we were in a dance recital.”
One of Delph’s favorite composites involves a picture of a carnival ride. “This one I love because we both happen to be wearing a very similar outfit,” she said. “My outfit was from a wedding that I was a flower girl in. This is just kind of funny, because she’s being goofy, and I’m being goofy, and it just kind of looks like we’re both posing for the camera in a very goofy way.”
Delph got a kick out of a photo of her mother as a teenager, hanging out on a floral-patterned couch with her friends. “It’s a very random moment that just kind of gets captured,” Delph added. “It’s a very natural thing. Everyone has a photo like this.”
Formalwear also got the mashup treatment. “This is either homecoming or a prom,” Delph said.
Perhaps the best case for a mother-daughter friendship that bends the rules of space and time is the final photo in the collection. “There are some things from my world – like, I’m holding an iced coffee, which is something that they would never have [back then], and I’m wearing [my mother’s] charm bracelet from her high-school years,” Delph said. “So, I think this one has a lot of layers to it. This is kind of a moment where just two girls are hanging out, walking down the street and having a really candid conversation.”
In addition to creating memorable composite visuals, Delph’s leafing through her mom’s photo albums yielded another profound result.
“You see a side of things that you never really saw before,” she said, “because you’re not there for the first 30 years of [your parents’] lives.”
The muse approves, too. "My mom really loved the project," Delph said. "She said it made her cry, and she visits it everyday. She thinks we really would have been friends had we grown up together."
Delph added she’s been thrilled by the Internet response to her collection, which was featured on Hello Giggles earlier this week.
“I wasn’t really expecting that kind of response,” she added, “because I was doing this for my mom.”
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