Family portraiture is a fine art.
It’s about getting close, but still keeping that little bit of space. In fact, I believe it’s the perception of a related outsider that best captures family moments: very much present, yet at that crucial distance.
Within my own family, the photographic act rarely takes centre stage, it’s more like briefly coming up for air or jotting down a quick note, while being immersed in the flow of things. So, getting round to capturing family portraiture always needs a specific type of urgency in order to make it happen, like when we gathered to photograph my grandmother shortly before she passed away.
During this particular session, in front of my great grandmother’s family home, she urged me to photograph her sons for her. To create the desired set-up with my uncles, I needed my grandmother’s personal commission.
And, I have to say, it was a truly empowering experience for me to be directing them as a professional photographer after having always been their little niece.
It was a brand new dynamic and the resulting images give just a trace of a specific moment in time that will never occur again.
Because I have a deep respect for family constellations and the art called for in capturing their representation, I was very happy and honoured to be commissioned for family portraiture after a friend’s daughter’s confirmation last autumn. Coming into this group of family members and close friends, it felt very precious to be trusted with such an important job. The process was absolutely magical – and a lot of fun for everyone involved.
I could feel that I became a witness and a vessel for what they wanted to express and share with one another.
For my 2012 solo show at the M-Museum in Leuven, Belgium, I took parallel exhibitions as starting points for my installation Poem to be sung. One was the Sol Lewitt retrospective from which I derived the shape alphabet, and the other was a Madonna sculpture from the museum’s Medieval collection. Ultimately, my Artist with removed objects and child photograph is a dialogue of both these influences, taking a unique place in my growing collection of portraits of women. Plus, I had a 3 year-old boy of my own at home while preparing for this show – my first big solo show in a museum.
So this photograph most definitely captured my creative process in a moving and personal way too.
Ultimately, what I’ve found through my empowering photography work, is that people want to be shown with their closest family members. For example, I was working on a portrait of my godmother, a Finnish priest living in Vienna. After our session, she called for her sons, and then her husband, to come in too. It felt to me as if her self image was only complete when surrounded by her loved ones. We are social animals after all.
And, as for me – the photographer in the room – what’s special and satisfying is the inherent trust that I sense being extended towards me. Being in such a situation gives me the confidence to involve myself, respectfully, and arrange beautiful family portraits according to what feels right.
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