I grew up in a house built by my father. Behind it and constructed of lumber treated to withstand many years of weather, was a small log cabin. It belonged to me and occupied the yard like an eternal child of the full-grown house in front of it. When my parents divorced, the house was signed over to my mother who eventually sold it and its progeny in the backyard. My father moved into a mobile home, my mother into a smaller house in a neighborhood and not on a plot of land out in the county, like we knew growing up. Neither of these places ever really felt the same as when I was a kid and now on the other side of a divorce, neither did our family.
A few years later as I was finishing college, my grandfather offered me his house. It was becoming too much for his care but he wanted to keep it within the family. On the living room side of the kitchen counter were hidden collectible coins under the carpet. My grandfather gave me a few over the years and over the years I lost most all of them. On the screened back porch with bright green plastic carpet was a small refrigerator full of canned Tab and bottled Coca-Colas. Just outside the porch I learned the three speed manual transmission on his riding lawnmower. I raced it around the backyard with the blade disengaged, never actually cutting the grass.
In considering my grandfather’s offer, I thought if I were to live in this house with the green plastic carpet I would be an adult never fully realized, like a child drinking bottled Cokes through a straw living in a house belonging to someone older who was always away at work or on vacation. Although the mortgage was paid and at the very least I could have rented or sold it I declined my inheritance.
Family like a wishbone, is tempting to break wanting for a dream, someone else’s inheritance, a different last name. But family is a fulcrum. Wendell Berry says, “it is the purpose of the family to stay together. And like a community, a family doesn’t stay together just out of sentiment. It is certainly more pat to stay together if the various members need one another or are in some practical way dependent on one another.” Like the houses in which we were raised, like Moses and the burning bush, this is our task and thrust. Everything else, better or worse pivots upon family.
Lovely Brood by John & Emily O’Connor
I am unveiled here. In the presence of family my armor falls. Here I may set down the weight of my unspoken feelings from the day, and embrace what is raw and imperfect. I am mostly me when I am a part of these other people. My “whole” is a collection of seemingly insignificant moments spent among one another. The rarest beauty lies in my taking for granted each of these tiny encounters only later to find myself groping for the treasure of their memories.
What is a child if not resting with nothing and wrestling with everything, first taking comfort in loved ones and familiar places then like a portrait becoming slightly guarded, hoping for understanding and to know the relationship within a frame? Fortunately family like the photograph isn’t just for making sense of an otherwise confusing circumstance, an odd beat or particular time. It is rarely profound and often achingly normal. Without much concern for time a child exists as part of this unit into which he was not invited but rather became. Family also hopes to be without the dependency of time, like a photograph to squash it and curse sentimentality needing neither before nor after nor now, only these moments, the monumental and also less guarded consequences of our familial existence. Family hopes to be succinct with itself, simple concerns and the space we each occupy.
Relative to those spaces however, first being that which exists under the roof of our home, we learn to walk by stumbling across the room jagged and teetering. We learn to chew with our mouths closed and the consequence of baseballs through windows. We learn that family is geometric, the properties of relations and points, one thing leads to another, a continuum. Although extremes might be distinct, self-alignment by being, substance and identity, street signs, and fences regard that this continuum is more like that path we made when learning to walk. More like neighborhood streets than a straight line. Where then if that space is expanded large enough, even seemingly unrelated things relate.
Something is Happening by Bradley Peters
These images were made between 1998 and 2004, while I was a resident of Gaslight Village, a trailer park on the north side of Lincoln, NE. My parents purchased the trailer as a way to provide affordable housing for my brother and I while we both attended college. It was a singlewide, tan with brown trim, and pipes that froze in the winter when we forgot to leave the faucet running. We lived on Torchlight Lane.
Needless to say, I don’t come from money; in fact, I grew up on free and reduced lunch for most of my childhood and adolescence. I started working illegally at a local restaurant at the age of 13 and haven’t had less than two jobs simultaneously since I was 16 years old. This trait seems to run in my family as my brother often jokes, “you’re not a Peters unless you’ve got three jobs”. My family is grounded in blue-collar origins; we’re workers.
Despite this history, I convinced myself that I was an outsider in Gaslight Village, sharing no commonality with my neighbors. I actually turned the camera onto the trailer park thinking that I was describing the differences between this place and myself, but, in reality, I only found resemblances. For me, these images conjure up the conflict between the desires of staying connected to one’s roots while also aspiring to move on and improve one’s life. Looking back at these images I am struck by an acute realization of how different my life would be today had I not made them.
In these images the gestures are both my subject’s and my own, a kind of visual sonar that is trying to make sense of the world by examining the veritable sound that bounces back. I am searching for the familiar traces that can help lead to transformative thought and self-reflection. These pictures don’t propose to provide any answers, but instead, I hope they facilitate some personal rumination of a mystery that I think about often–why are the most universal aspects of our lives also often the most complicated?
But family dynamic is a soda left on the bumper of a car. When the road is straight it might not move but sloshes about, spilling or falling when driving too fast or the road bends too far. How does a family right itself in the sharp curve and the car too fast and tires lifting off the road? Instinct might suggest steering away from the direction the car is falling. But logic proves the opposite best; turn the steering wheel into the direction the car is tilting. With enough time on a long enough path, trouble doesn’t look much different than humming along. Is the evidence of one or the other more true? No more than cracks in the pavement are the topography of a town. Family is not a schism. It exists solely on neither extreme. Respite comes from the most difficult document, the study of a family in the curve. More than that is the need to accept both as one like the beginning and end of a cul-de-sac road.
Fault Line by Sophie Barbasch
Fault Line is a project I am doing in the small coastal town of Brooklin, Maine. The protagonist is my younger cousin Adam, who lives there. I also photograph my brother, father, and other cousins. I chose the title because a fault line alludes to where the earth splits in an earthquake (a metaphor for a divided family with a complicated history) and also alludes to fault, or blame (I wonder, how does a family support each other, even when things aren’t perfect?) My goal is to show the weight we all carry and how we are both connected and isolated from each other.
And too often considered a last resort, post-failure, we return to where we began. Distance was encouraged and perhaps necessary: to move if not on to a destination then somewhere else. Anywhere else but here. Yet all while we wander, home is our destination, lending perspective, recognizing familiarity down the road to the unfamiliar. Distance over time equals speed equals how quickly I can get away. This anxiety is a direct artery from the heart. It pushes you away, intent like Adderall. Know thyself like desire, like wandering in the desert, like manna, like a golden calf. I am lost therefore I am. Know thy youth before old-age sets your bones against trees leaning blocking the sun. Before your one hundred and twentieth birthday. Set out and strike the rock, stretching time far before it bites you on the ass. Enough distance it will like snap like a rubber band. Call home occasionally. Say you’ll be back when you can give more than take and you will live where you are known and know. This is the terms of good economy. Where you feed and are fed. Where you know birthdays, anniversaries and read obituaries. Call and say, “I am coming home if not for awhile then for more.”
Midwest Dirt by Nathan Pearce
When I was 18 years old I packed my bags and left rural Illinois. It had been my home my entire life, but I thought in leaving I would find the perfect place for myself elsewhere. In the city everything and everyone I knew was very different from what I knew back home and yet at the same time familiar. The wild and restless days of my youth were in full swing. But when I awoke those mornings I still expected to see my old Midwestern life.
Where I was living wasn’t exactly the wrong place for me, and at its core my life wasn’t drastically different, but it wasn’t home.
I came back home to live almost a decade later. I still have no idea if this time I will stay for good, I don’t know if that will ever happen.
The wild restless days and nights haven’t ceased.
Some nights when I lay down in my bed and close my eyes I fantasize that I didn’t ever return. I dream that I could get right back up and go over to my corner bar in the city and have a drink looking out on the crowded street.
But I’m not there. I’m here. In the country.
Now it’s just after harvest time, my favorite time of year. The fields are almost cleared and I’m barefoot on my porch with a beer in my hand. I can see for miles.
This project is about a time in my mid twenties when I can feel the tension between home and away.
So like water we come back shaping and shaped and salty, eroding and one thing certain: family changes to stay the same. Melded like glass perfected by individual grains of sand in magnitude, like a favorite birthday cake every birthday year celebrating an ever changing, ever growing child: last year she learned to walk, last year puberty, this year she married. A baby. Next year divorced. The shore stretches for miles without changing and with time family becomes new and changes the same. Time is so simple in these terms and though it is beautiful, it is our foe.
I Heard the Roar and the Gust of the Gulf by Michael McCraw
I Heard the Roar and Gust of the Gulf is an ongoing body of work about my wife’s immediate family and the stretch of the land between where she and I both grew up. The most northwest part of the Florida Panhandle to the southern tip of Alabama. Lands weathered by hurricanes. People by divorce and change.
We come back to the family album, considering it differently now: aunts, uncles, siblings, parents and perseverance. We consider time and its demands and how with the coursing of blood through our veins, blood through family, we fight it. Consider it an extension of the self, looking at oneself by looking at our likeness in others before you. We consider how we look changed or mended and pieced back together now.
Family Album (1983 – 1991) by Kay Westhues
This series began when I returned to Indiana after studying at Rhode Island School of Design. As a young woman from a small town in the Midwest, I had my heart set on going east for art school. I wanted to spend time in a place where creativity was valued as much or more than sports. The east coast symbolized that for me.
RISD was a life-changing experience. It was there I truly became aware of the concept of social class. I also found I had been living in a fly-over state. People there were not considered as important or central to the things that mattered. Keep in mind that I left Indiana because of utter boredom. But this did not mean that the people I loved were less important, or their lives were not every bit as valuable. A conviction grew during my time at RISD. I wanted to return to Indiana and tell my family’s story.
My family is large; seven siblings total, plus nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and countless cousins. My dad was a farmer and his father also farmed. But this stopped with him, as none of his children wanted to take over the farm. Many of us pursued creative paths; music, art, crafts. My older siblings became hippies. There was a break in my family that never quite healed because of this. Looking back, I think this project was also an attempt to keep us connected.
My parents and siblings lovingly accepted my habit of photographing during every visit and important occasion. I like to think they now value these images. They represent a time when we were young, idealistic, and inventing our own lives.
Yet if there exist beauty in simplicity there must exist at the least, intrigue in deception: in the application of lipstick, in a suggestive photograph, in denying time. Who is our mother and what is a daughter? What is it for time to confuse the transition from one to the other? For longevity there exist: mother, daughter and performance. A trinity that if deconstructed does not make sense in parts but is neither fully explained by its sum. If we know that we are being performed to, then we are too a performer and there is no truth in the totality of deceit. What is mascara and eye shadow if not for artifice? What does a mother pass to a daughter that she is not asked to hide? Surely something more than fooling time, something more than a charade never fully revealed.
Natural Deceptions by Natalie Krick
My mother performs for my camera, for me, for you. Her appearance and demeanor fluctuate from image to image and our unstable identities blend together. We impersonate ourselves and each other while distorting the cliches of mainstream femininity that have taught us how to be beautiful. Through the garish color, harsh light and recurring motifs, my photographs highlight the artifice of beauty in ways that are both seductive and flawed.
If anything other than elastic, other than long days and shorter years, time is the passing of traits, characteristics and DNA from mother to daughter and to her daughter. Simultaneously independent lives, sets of windshield wipers each with a rhythm occasionally effacing individuality like rain and then falling out of sync again. Unlike the photograph, the family cannot ignore time but like the photograph, time for the family is full of ambiguities. Daughter is like mother but not specifically, a simple beauty in that it is a natural process of life complex with science. But without need for too much thought, she sees what she might become. Perhaps her worst fear or perhaps proud she can say, “I am becoming my mother.”
Familiar Manners by Samantha Belden
The process of aging: a perpetual rhythm that no one can escape. We live our lives constantly changing, all experiencing the same general routine. We are born and we grow old. As I age, my elders age, this beautiful and haunting process continuously shaping our identities. My identity is pulled and strained towards the identity of the family who has defined me all of my life and then towards the longing of being unique and separate. When I look at myself I see a girl at twenty growing into womanhood, not quite an adult, but starting to understand and come to terms with the actualities of life. When I look at my mother I see a woman who has lived half of her life at fifty realizing the potential of herself beyond being a mother. When I look at my grandmother I see a woman at seventy-five in a transitional period where she is cared for more so than caring for. These fundamental ages of a life span portray the fluid movements of life and the constant changes a person and family experience at different ages. 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.
Other than DNA the good and bad, understanding cooperation and conflict, what might a child inherit from family? Perhaps the less quantified value of where we began, that which existed under the roof of our home. From there we started, left and returned and having gone out again, extended family. Simply put, perspective and appreciation for if not family then interdependency, and if not interdependency, then the inescapable connectivity of time and blood and place, of wood slats and bones, femurs and tibias growing and stretching and aching with aging.
Brother’s Sister by Samantha Harthoorn
I spent my first 22 years under the same roof watching the awkward transition between the 90’s and the millennium. I didn’t comprehend the connection of space and home until my first sibling. Being 18 years old ago, I felt there was a responsibility to help him understand the importance of home. Sharing parts of the past that made this pale comfortable, I pass on the memories of the house that raised me, hoping someday brother will share these same feelings.
Shortly after I decided not to inherit my grandfather’s house he put it up for sale. But not before it caught fire one night as he slept. It was a wonder he didn’t die. A short in his electric blanket caused the fire but somehow he managed to kick it off and get out. The fire burned like some reminder that family consumes us. But also like family, his bedroom and the back of the house was damaged but not destroyed, on fire but not consumed, confessing through smoke the fortitude upon that which we are hinged.