Following the Fathers and Sons collection in 2009 is the Mothers and Daughters in 2011. Although a theme covered many time before it has not been shot in the same way nor with the same intention that I had with this collection.
Rather than simply complementing the earlier project, this new collection contrasted the Fathers and Sons in many ways. The contrast served to highlight some fundamental differences in the way men and women interact as well how we behave and display love and affection in particular. An initial reaction might be to say ‘so what? We know we are different! But accommodating these differences photographically was quite interesting.
With the fathers and sons there was a clear energy and physicality. The challenge was catching that energy while retaining a spontaneity to the shot, as well as keeping it looking natural and pleasing to look at – I’m referring to the scene or setting in particular. For this the black-and-white was perfect. In some ways it was a bit like shooting sport or reportage.
The portraits photographs of the fathers and sons together had energy to them too. When I left them in colour it was almost too much. The energy of the colour plus the energy of the action was overwhelming. (Looking at the colour in some of the mothers and daughters portraits may help you understand what I mean by the energy of colour in a photograph.)
Photographing the mothers and daughters was almost completely opposite to the fathers and sons. In many cases the black-and-white images were dull. I found constantly I was needing colour to give the images some kind of energy – something that was quite abundant as I shot a lot in Spring and Autumn.
I also noted that women dress and use colour differently to men, and certainly more consciously than men. (I was learning a lot here!) Whereas men tend to just put clothes on, women go to greater effort with dress choices (and make up and hair, of course). Since colour and dress choices are a big part of who women are (or present publicly) I had to capture that colour to be faithful to the nature of women.
All this points to fundamental differences in the nature of male and female. Because the nature of male affection was more physical – maybe defined more by what we are doing or a trust built on shared activity – it was easier to capture. Whereas the contrasting nature of female affection appears to be more focused on understanding, of talking and simply being together supportively.
I felt constantly that mothers and daughters enjoy just being together. There was rarely a requirement to be doing something active, which was often the case with the fathers and sons
. It was as though the male togetherness was ‘conditional’: if we are going to be together then we better be doing something active!
The implications for the exhibition of portraits of women was a bit of a concern for me. I was worried that 100 portraits of mothers and daughter just ‘being together’ would be visually dull, particularly following the very exciting and popular Fathers and Sons. In fact I worried that I ‘failed’ in some way.
The great thing about these projects, however, is the surprises and what can be learnt from viewing a collection as a whole (as well as what can be learnt about the process of photographing to capture emotions and relationships).
As I sat quietly in the gallery surrounded by 103 portraits I started to feel quite overwhelmed by the emotional energy of the photographs. I liken it to my entering in a mosque or a buddhist temple. I realised I was in a place of spiritual power and significance but recognised it was outside my cultural understanding.
I was moved by the spirituality but I also felt as though I was intruding on some private space – like ‘secret women’s business’!
Exhibition at The Gallery, April 9th, 2011
With this realisation came the satisfaction that I had indeed captured the true essence of how mothers and daughters (and therefore of women) interact and feel about each other. For men prepared to open themselves to what was going on in that exhibition space it was truly a revelation. I know this because other men expressed something along these lines.
Where black-and-white was perfect for the fathers and sons colour was often better for the mothers and daughters. It gave the images some energy and reflected the nature of women. After my initial concerns about the content being dull compared to the fathers and sons, I realised I had captured and recorded something truly wonderful about the nature of women. And by contrasting this with the fathers and sons it helped put what that fathers and sons collection into a new light.
I admit to making quite sweeping generalisation here. Not all Fathers and Sons portraits were particularly active and not all Mothers and Daughters shots were better in colour. The exceptions to these rules are equally interesting for what they say about the contrasting images.
Sometimes we think we know what the answer will be, only to have our preconceptions challenged. The power of photography and this kind of collection is that we can stand back and reflect on what the images tell us. The photographic portrait always tells us more than simply what it appears to show.
When we take time to ‘read’ a photograph we learn a lot more than we expected. A great photograph makes the difference between just a snap or a copy of someone and something that tells us a story or captures a life or a truth or something we really value.