I began photographing my father, two brothers and sister ten years ago when I moved away from my family for the first time to attend graduate school. In 2006 my mother sunk into a deep depression causing our family to unravel. For almost three years my mother was a ghost of herself, often locked in her bedroom not to be bothered. Unable to care for herself or all three of my siblings, my father took guardianship of my brothers, who are not his biological children, while my sister stayed with my mother and stepfather. This entropic period changed everything from our financial stability to our physical and mental health and understanding of ourselves. I
felt an urgency to be at home - making photographs is my way of understanding the complexities of our situation.
What do you want viewers to grasp from this series?
In my photographs I examine the social stigmas associated with mental health, sexuality, and class - all things that are not socially acceptable to talk about. I have been told my whole life I shouldn’t talk about these things. In sharing my work I have heard from many people dealing with similar experiences. In the end it is my goal create dialogue around these issues.
How would you define family?
There is the biological family that we are born into and the ones we make ourselves, sometimes these two are connected and sometimes they are not. The family you are born into often determines your fate in life, but it does not necessarily define you as a person. There is not one singular way I define family. I equate family to belonging, comfort, empathy, support and shared experience.
In what ways do you feel that your mother is present in this series?
Though my mother never physically appears in the photographs, accept for a small portion of her hand, her presence can be felt throughout the series. I consciously chose not to photograph my mother because the project is not about her physical appearance or putting blame on her, but about how we are affected by the people in our lives and the environments we inhabit. With that said, you can create a mental image of my mother’s physical appearance by studying the features of my siblings. Gain a sense of her personality by examining the decor of our home and the remnants of her belongings that are strewn throughout the house.
What role do you feel you play within your family?
Because of circumstances in my life - the divorce of my parents, my mother’s struggle with alcoholism and her mental health, witnessing and encountering the physical and emotional abuse of my mother’s second husband (my siblings biological father) and the unraveling of my family, in addition to the age gap between me and my siblings (who are seven, nine, and ten years younger than me) I feel a great deal of responsibility for the well-being of both my siblings and parents.
Were there any moments you chose not to photograph and why?
There are many things that I choose not to photograph and many things that I have photographed that I have chosen not to show. When I began photographing this project I thought I needed to glorify our otherness (I learned this from the traditions that came before me) through picturing the disrepair of our home, but I realized that as an insider I had the unique opportunity to explore my family’s experience and to, rather than create a one-dimensional exalted view, craft a more complete and nuanced image of my family’s circumstances.
When did you feel that you were telling a story that others experience as well?
I have never felt that my story was unique. Though the specifics may not be exact, I have encountered many similar stories.
Hold Together has not only taught me more about myself and my family, but has heightened my social awareness. We are a society that does not value people who do not fit false ideals and traditional values. When I began photographing this project I thought I needed to glorify our otherness (I learned this from the traditions that came before me), but I realized that as an insider I had the unique opportunity to explore my family’s experience and to, rather than create a one-dimensional exalted view, craft a more complete and nuanced image of my family’s circumstances. Over the course of making this body of work I’ve come to learn that my family is not so unusual. Culturally, we don’t generally talk about mental health. I have been told my whole life I shouldn’t talk about these things. Through the process of making this work and opening up about my family’s experience, I’ve learned that things may be different if we all did.
If we passed by your light blue home we would never know what was happening inside without the access to your photographs, has this changed your perspective in any way?
Societal standards force many people, regardless of race or class, to present an ideal version of themselves. I try not to make judgements based on outward appearances. You can never fully know what is happening without a larger context. I learned the importance of empathy. All people, no matter their race, gender, sexuality, or class, need to be seen and heard, as well as granted equal opportunity and access.
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