The Family Dynamics exhibition opens on Wednesday and we are pleased to announce the award winners of the Family Dynamics show: Katie Doyle (Director’s Choice) and Alison Turner (Juror’s Choice). We asked Katie and Alison a few questions about their work to gain insight into their artistic processes.
Winning Image: Brothers
When describing Alison Turner, the word “dedicated” instantly springs to mind. This Long Beach, California based photographer has spent the past three years traveling the United States with almost nothing but her camera, a tent, and her dog, Max, in order to explore the lives of the American people. While this might seem like a daunting prospect for many, for Turner living on the road was almost second nature. “I grew up camping and taking long family road trips in our wood paneled station wagon so it wasn’t unusual for me to spend extended periods of time wandering around.” All it took for her to set off on this incredible journey was building up enough courage to quit her job. Her artistic motivation, on the other hand, can best be described in her own words:
Each day I looked at a map and headed out to an unknown destination. I wasn’t attracted to mundane tourist attractions. Instead, I was drawn to everyday Americans simply living their lives. I took daily portraits of people I randomly encountered at campsites, rest stops, bingo halls, their home, or wandering around town. Each stop had its own unique population of “Americana” personalities. Relying on my distinct personal aesthetic, I would instantly recognize my perfect stranger to photograph. In that moment of paths crossing, I would take their portrait.
Though the act of photographing a stranger could appear to be purely about the image, for Turner it is much more than that. A curiosity about humanity is her main driving force; a desire to learn who people are, what they do, how they live. And while approaching strangers can be somewhat nerve-wracking, the experience usually turns out to be a positive one. “Most of the time, the people I approach are flattered that I came up to talk with them. I think we are all searching for some human interaction and connection somewhere at any given moment.”
So what, then, makes one portrait more successful than another? The triumph of Brothers is in the complex relationship conveyed by the photograph. The brothers are obviously close but distant, a theme present in many families. According to Turner, the key is to photograph her subjects just “being.” Having subjects pose can make an image seem artificial. Thanks to her relaxed energy and open personality, Turner finds that many of her chosen subjects feel at ease opening up to her very quickly, which can often lead to a compelling portrait.
And while she has certainly learned much about this country and its people over the course of her travels, this amazing experience has also taught her much about herself. “Picking up a camera has taught me so much about myself and has pushed me to be a better person. That is the reason I continue to do it. I can’t imagine life without photographs.”
Winning Image: Becky's Bedroom
For Katie Doyle, Becky’s Bedroom is as much an insight into her own life as it is into the lives of her subjects. Part of a larger series of photographs, this image portrays Doyle’s older sister, Becky, with four of her children. She is twenty-four years old and just recently had baby number five. Doyle was compelled to document her sister due to their close relationship and closeness in age. Doyle works with a view that they are almost the same person; that they might replace each other. With such an intimate relationship yet very divergent paths, it’s not too much of a stretch for Doyle to imagine that they might have had a role reversal in another life.
Because of this, Doyle shows a fascination with the daily life of Becky’s family. Finances dictate that Becky live with her mother, which causes a certain amount of tension. Adding to this is the fact that she is a young mother.
Becky was 14 years old when she first got pregnant, and has been in the role of mother ever since. There is quite a bit of tension in how she is defined. On the one hand, she is very proud and loving of her children and embraces her role. On the other, she also quite understandably wants to be defined in terms of herself - as Becky, not just as the 24 year old mother of 5. I believe this tension is present in the work.
With the palpable emotion present in the situation, Doyle had to ease herself into the role as a documentarian. “When I began photographing my family in general (not just Becky), I at first felt voyeuristic and distanced. […] It felt for a while that I was on the outside looking in, and there was a certain resistance to the camera’s presence.” Her solution was to turn the camera on the children, who loved being the center of attention. “Developing a photographic relationship with my nephews made it a smoother transition to photographing Becky comfortably.” Through this process the sisters have also strengthened their relationship. A great deal of collaboration in the creation of each image emerged between them, which has helped open new lines of communication and understanding.
By the time Doyle created Becky’s Bedroom she had started to use a 4x5 camera, which significantly slows the photographic process. She started thinking about the size of Becky’s bed in relation to the room and came up with the concept of using the bed as a metaphor for motherhood and childhood, “as the bed is literally where it all begins.” The haphazard positioning of the children, their seeming restlessness, and the messiness of the room then add on new layers of meaning – literal and figurative dirty laundry, the quickness of childhood – to culminate in an image that conveys both a chaos and an intimacy that can very well be the definition of “family dynamics.”