Corinne Day, Charlie Engman and Leigh Ledare: meet the visionaries who took the mediocre family photo to a place where ‘Mom Fucking in Mirror’ is a typical title
Ah, the family photo. It’s a ubiquitous thing, like sexist adverts or those people who stop right in front of you on the Underground. It’s every photographer’s first subject, the place to go to cut your teeth and figure out how the flash works. In the right hands, however, the ambiguity of the family is a succulent, problematic feast for those interested in digging just beneath the surface. They can be anything – from a window into the darker minutia of life, to the uncomfortable truth that your mum might actually like sex, too. Here are our top ten masters of the art – the photographers proving that family snaps can be far more meaningful than the squealing mediocrity of you all in matching jumpers you sent to your gran last Christmas.
Back in 2009, Engman had graduated from Oxford University and was living on his parent’s couch, with little for company but a point-and-shoot camera and his mum. Engman began documenting her and found that, through photography, he’d made his mother different somehow. Engman began to take photos of his mum in the buff. Is that weird? It’s probably weird. His photography luxuriates in the liminal space between flesh and blood, the queasy sexuality between a mother and a son.
It’s the darkness that gets you. The black hole behind Avedon’s grandmother in every shot, the way her pale, wrinkled flesh rises out of it like diamonds scattered on a black blanket. Despite only being 24, Avedon feels as if he has been around for twice as long. The grandson of legendary fashion photographer, Richard Avedon, as well as a senator, Avedon’s inspiration is Elizabeth Moynihan, his grandmother. He scripts her in dark, almost cerebral poses. Reminiscent of the noir, Moynihan is often posed either wrapped in fabric or holding a flower, brutally displaying the softness of life against the backdrop of time.
Boys and their mums, eh? If you found Charlie Engman snapping shots of his beloved ma’ in the buff a bit odd, then Leigh Ledare’s series “Pretend You’re Actually Alive” may, perhaps, make you choke on your scone. Ledare, a disciple of Larry Clark, took inspiration from his mother’s life as an exotic dancer and began documenting her as she made love. “Mom Fucking in Mirror” is a typical title.
She is, by all accounts, a willing model, one who enlivens Ledare’s photography. Together, they force the observer to stare right at the blind-spot of the taboo. Below is definitely on the less-NSFW end of Ledare’s spectrum.
At some point in the 70s, Irina Ionesco appeared in Paris with a collection of vivid, almost pornographic photos of women. It was only a matter of time, however, before Irina focused the camera on her then then-year-old daughter, Eva, casting her in the same poses as her older models. At 11, Irina sold a photo of Eva to Playboy, making her by far the youngest person to have appeared in the magazine. Art or paedophilia, virginal beauty or artificial eroticism – the debate continues to rage.
There is no bond like the bond between a father and son. Watching football. And going mental. In Siegerflieger (which literally translates to “the victor’s plane”), Juergen Teller documents the highs and, well, highs of watching Germany’s World Cup winning team in 2014 with his son, Ed. From screaming in his Germany strip to welcoming the team back at the Brandenburg Gate, Juergen captures himself and his son in the throes of paternal bonding. And sporting ecstasy. Family photos are – usually – choreographed events where you all sit down and smile at the camera, no matter how you’re feeling. Teller’s work shows that art doesn’t need to be scripted.
Okay, so Waplington isn’t exactly photographing his own family in his “Living Room” series, but maybe he’s on to something. Documenting two families in a council estate in Nottingham, Waplington created magic from normality. Exploring the beauty of domestic space, Waplington derived humour and tenderness from the otherwise grim situation of 80s Britain.
In her series “FROWST”, Joanna Piotrowska shelves hopeful Technicolor for the stark truth of black and white to create a collection of quite uncomfortable work. As she told Dazed last year, it’s about awkwardness and dysfunction. It’s like looking at the family from the perspective of an alien: every picture is filled with a strange rigidness and the hint of incest, of things unseen. They’re weird, evocative and definitely brilliant.
ERIK VAN DER WEIJDE
Disorientating and unsettling, but also oddly cute, Erik Van Der Weijde’s series “This is Not My Son” chronicles his son – or is it, really? – hiding behind photographs, masks, pillows, curtains, costumes. You name it. In the sequel, “This is Not My Wife”, he makes strange his relationship with his wife, Lucia, by mixing photographs of her with other women in her place. Both candid and endearing, the two series find a playful balance between the strange and the known, the far away and the very near.
While the Italian is best known for his nude spreads in Vogue and Harper’s, his book Draw Blood for Proof takes the intimacy of his family life as its inspiration and mixes it in with his professional career. Beginning life as a collection of photos pinned to the walls of his New York loft, the book features tens of photos on every page – ranging from nude photos of family members, portraiture and Kate Moss. The chiaroscuro of relatives and celebrity, of intimacy and enmity, creates a unity out of everything.
Speaking of Kate Moss, the woman credited with launching her career, Corinne Day, had quietly spent years photographing her nearest and dearest until her untimely death in 2010. Her raw, naturalistic style shines in the closeness of family, which her husband compiled and released as May the Circle Remain Unbroken. In “Diary”, her intimate documentation of drug taking, squatting and her own battle with a brain tumour, Day shows that love and hope can be found in any situation – even the most hopeless.