Featured photo by Claire Christerson.
Lili Hayes isn’t a regular mom. She’s an Original mom. So original, in fact, that some people might say she’s totally off her rocker. Her daily shenanigans range from elaborate performances in full costume to expletive-peppered rants in her signature accent, and are orchestrated and captured by her son, artist Kevin Hayes. (He then shares them with her adoring 101K Instagram followers.) We talked to Kevin about being a cross-generational creative duo, his mom’s inspirational nuttiness and, of course, the role Polaroid pictures play in his work.
Kevin himself is a photographer who grew up around instant film. “The first family camera was a Polaroid camera,” he says. “And those old images were the visual aids that helped my parents tell me their life story. My dad was the photographer of the family. I mean, he didn’t take it too seriously but he definitely tried his best to capture family moments.”
But when he hit high school, Kevin’s own interest in the medium grew. “I got really deep into photography. Polaroids were some of the first photos I took with the idea of actually creating art,” he recalls. “The camera was just so easy to use and the images were always cool and the exposure was forgiving. Polaroid cameras were just the perfect tool to get my ideas out before I really tried to understand how to use an SLR.” Little did he know, he was laying the groundwork for a future as a visual artist — and, even more improbably, as the person who would encourage and broadcast his mom’s wackiness to the world. The project with Lili happened so easily and naturally, it was nearly inevitable. “Mom’s always been this eccentric freakin’ lunatic. Like I said, I’ve been taking photos most of my life so it was just meant to be.” The over-the-top characters she dresses up as even came from his own collection of costumes. “Once I saw how [crazy] mom got when playing dress up, but still, like, cool enough to see my idea through, it was a match made in heaven.” One might assume that being in an intergenerational creative duo would come with it’s own set of challenges. Is there enough of a shared cultural context? “I don’t think there’s a creative barrier between us generationally. Mom likes to keep up with pop culture, so she’s always giving me gossip on what’s happening today. And, I’m deeply in love with music and art from when she was my age so in many ways our roles are reversed which I think helps how well we work together.”
Going out and beyond their relationship dynamic, though, is what helps keep them both inspired and energized. “Music is very big in our house and always has been.Your day is just different when you’re tapping your foot to a tune, even if you don’t know you are. So I make it a point to always have something playing,” Kevin says. “[That] and our friends. We’re very fortunate to have many accomplished artists and weirdos and ambitious people around us all the time.” Their line of work, especially, keeps those kinds of people coming. “Through things like this we’re meeting more all the time! The company you keep is extremely important, and we’re very lucky that such cool people wanna hang out with us.”
Since Kevin has worked with instant photography for so long, we wondered if he’s seen a shift in how it’s used and appreciated, now and then. “I think it’s still just about capturing a moment that means the world to you. There’s a special moment, like Mom taking a photo of me winning a trophy for, like, soccer that are cool to photograph,” he says. “[But also] moments that aren’t so special become monuments after [you photograph them]. Like I just saw an old Polaroid of a friend when she was a kid, and had allergies so bad that her eye shut. Her mom decided to take a photo which ended up being her favorite childhood photo simply ‘cause it was so real and funny. It made her remember this not-so-special day, and the photo brought tears to her eyes while she was showing me. I’m still using my Polaroid to do that same thing. Nothing’s really changed.”
One of the most powerful things about Lili and Kevin’s dynamic, too, is how much he admires her and the work they do together. “Mom is just nuts and I’m fanning that flame! When she dances like MC Hammer or is killing a Prince song, I just lose my mind. I’ve seen this stuff a million times and I still can’t get enough of it.” And it keeps him hopeful about the future, at any age. “I’ve realized that you can not only grow older with grace, but also with, like, funk and soul. I think it’s something we’ve all been taught, cliches like ‘Age ain’t nothing but a number.’ But even though we all kind of know that, it’s a completely different thing when you’re around someone who is proof of it. It’s really inspiring. With Mom, I’ve learned that you can really help others by truly being yourself.”
And his own advice for the next generation? “Try everything! I was going to say ‘Be yourself,’ but often times I’ve found that kids don’t know who they are yet. By trying things they might not think they like, [it can] help them understand themselves better.”
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