SM: Who are you?
SB: Samantha Belden, but most people call me Sam.
SM: What are you?
SB: A recent graduate who is taking each event as it comes. I also consider myself a researcher, thinker, and listener.
SM: When are you?
SB: I thrive in the autumn months, I’m a September baby.
SM: Where are you?
SB: As I type this I’m in Portage, Michigan, but I’ll soon be living in Chicago again. By the end of the year I’m hoping to visit Philadelphia and LA.
SM: Why are you?
SB: Because Frank Ocean
SM: Your project Familiar Manners was featured in Strant VOL004; ISS001 and more recently images from the series in the Strant photobook Family Faith Food. Familiar Manners looks at three generations of women: you, your mother, and your grandmother and considers as you said in your statement that, “As I look at my grandmother, I see my mother and in my mother, I see myself. These simple generational shifts allow me to explore the process of aging and the relations between three generations of women. The images preserve myself, mother, and grandmother in a moment of subtle observation that aids me to understand this pattern of life.” Your project Helen, focuses on your grandmother and some of the peripheral things that I assume are a part of her life—her home, her decor—that were also featured less prominently in Familiar Manners.
That genealogical timeline which you focused on in Familiar Manners would suggest that the future considers you. And if there were to be a continuation of the subject (perhaps it is presumptuous to regard Helen a follow up project but it does at the very least overlap) then it would be you on which the focus is given. However, in Helen you have upended the original timeline on which you based Familiar Manners and as you have said in the statement, the project is “a way to preserve the past as I consider the inevitable future.” Share why in Helen you went against that genealogical timeline present in Familiar Manners, why you focused on the past in consideration of the future, and lastly why you chose your grandmother.
SB: When I started photographing my family I wanted to make my project that was more complicated than photographs of my entire family or even photographs of one family member, so I decided to photograph myself, my mother, and my grandmother. I wanted my viewers to have the ability to observe three generations of women at different transitional stages of life. When I think about my statement “As I look at my grandmother, I see my mother and in my mother, I see myself,” it exemplifies my thoughts on my relationships with my mother and my grandmother and how we continuously influence each other.
I still think the idea of looking at three generations of women is important especially when a long period of time is involved and you can start to see each person age and each person transform into the next person. When I started photographing the three of us my grandmother, Helen, was always the focus, I just never wanted to admit it to myself. I did not think I could pull off a project that was a study of one person. We have seen successful photo projects like this in the past, my biggest inspiration being Julian Germain’s project, For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness, but I was not confident I could have a project only about her. When I started focusing on her entirely it felt like a natural transition from Familiar Manners, and the step I needed to take in my photographic process. When I started focusing on her it was at a stage in her life where she was getting prepared to move out of the house she lived in for over thirty years. To hold onto these moments with her I use photography as a tool of preservation and to preserve my grandmother and her space and to study how she influences her space and vice versa. I focus on the past and present to overcome my anxieties of future imminent life events, whether it be the event of a move or a more drastic event of a death. Through photography I am mentally preparing myself for my grandmother’s death and other events I will have to deal with in my life. The knowledge that I will always have a photograph that documents the details of my grandmother’s skin, the texture of her hair, or the way her body has molded the sheets and pillows in her bed is powerful.