To Be Thirteen (2011-2014)
To Be Thirteen is a story about thirteen-year-olds. It is 250 color portraits made with a 4x5 view camera. They are portraits of children born at the end of the 20th century. I drew from my personal and intimate relation to the subject, both as a parent of a thirteen-year-old and from dredging my own distant memories of having been thirteen. I began with my daughter, her friends and other children I already knew at this age then I solicited volunteers through word of mouth and through social networks, through my children, their friends, my students, my friends children, colleagues, sports teams, clubs and schools. I traveled to nine states and one province and photographed thirteen year olds from a wide geographic and demographic range.
I started this project with some basic questions: What does a thirteen-year old look like? What is it like now to be thirteen? How do they see themselves and the world? What are they thinking about? So often we are told what to fear for our teenagers or what to fear from them. What do they fear? What do they look forward to? What are the commonalities across time? How does being thirteen now compare to being thirteen ten, fifteen or fifty years ago?
What I discovered in making these pictures was a complex combination of confirmed beliefs and subverted expectations. Some at this age are close to full-grown adults and some still have children’s bodies. Most are somewhere in-between. In the teenage years the brain is growing in a way that makes adolescents vulnerable to impulsivity, addiction and frustration; Their new bodies and new sexual feelings are confusing and overwhelming. Yet at the same time many of these subjects possessed a sense of their place in life, their place in the world and themselves which left me reeling after the shoot. There was so much inside them. Almost always I was energized and felt a deep (although fleeting) connection to them. Teenagers’ passion, creativity and risk seeking behavior make this point in life compelling and rich as well as difficult and terrifying. For many of us the self-perception and experience we have at thirteen leaves such an impact on that it continues to define us for the rest of our lives. With this work I was interested in making a connection between the actual thirteen years olds and the idea of being thirteen and evoking the thirteen year old in all of us.
Sweet is the Swamp (1998-2014)
Sweet is the Swamp with its Secrets/Until we meet a Snake/‘Tis the we sigh for houses/And our departure take.
At that enthralling gallop/That only childhood knows/A snake is a summer’s treason/And guile is where it goes.
For sixteen years when my children and I were together in our everyday lives I took pictures of them and their friends. I picked up the camera when I had aesthetic, instinctual and intuitive responses. I watched my children as they discovered the weight of a dead bird, the feel of mud as it dried on the skin, the color of a sunburn, the stickiness of chocolate milk on skin. I watched as they dressed up for Halloween or just for the fun of it, in museums and on the beach, road trips and birthday parties.
Led by my fascination with the lyricism and mythology of childhood I began taking these pictures quite sure of what I thought they would be about: the drama of being a child combined with my own observations and obsession with children and childhood; the pictures would be a critique on the ways in which adults romanticize and hijack memories of childhood with projections of what they wish it were like or wish it had been like. I wanted to make images that showed that childhood was complex and rich and beautiful and hard, to reject the soft focused myth of childhood innocence.
Yet the more this project has progressed the less sure I have been about what the work is about and the more difficult I have found it to talk about it. I found that photography, art making, my art-making at least, doesn’t work in such a predictable way. The photographs it turns out are like the children in them: not exactly what I had planned. In that way the images parallel the experience of parenthood but they are not a direct reflection of it. This is strange I think. I know I feel something intense when I look at these pictures. But it is something very different from what I feel looking at my family snapshots. This leads me to believe that these pictures aren't about my kids or their friends or my plans to subvert the iconography of childhood. Instead I'm left contemplating Dickinson’s “enthralling gallop” – the longing for the rawness, intensity and magic of childhood and a compelling desire to know the secrets that once we are past childhood we can only catch fleetingly perhaps in dreams, and, if we are lucky, in photographs. I am left with a longing that is not specifically about my own children or my experience of parenting, but something even deeper within me, I long for my own childhood.
From the morning after her birth until she was eleven and a half, I photographed my daughter daily. In those first few months I was eager to record the emergence of this human being. I watched for when the umbilical stump fell off, when her legs straightened out, when she discovered her feet. My original hope was to capture how she grew and changed over the first year of her life. After a year it was a habit
The process continued for ten more years. As Madeleine grew older she became aware of the camera, the ritual was woven into our day and into our life.
This project was a family collaboration. When I was away Madeleine’s father took the photo. When she spent the night away from us, the camera went with her and we would ask the person she was staying with, relative, friend, camp counselor, to take the photo.
As this project was in progress people would often ask me how long I intended to keep up with it. As long as we can. I would say. When you use your life as creative fodder you have to be ready for life changes to affect your work. It’s part of the risk. So in June of 2009 when I separated from my husband we stopped taking the daily photo. I was no longer with her everyday and the feeling of cooperation and collaboration between the three of us shifted drastically, the photos stopped.
Throughout the course of creating this work I was interested in ideas of time, change and transformation. People sometimes find this work difficult and provocative and as a result I have been pushed to consider what it means to challenge commonly held beliefs about children and their bodies. The work has developed a life of its own and has absorbed issues of representation, children and sexuality and the politics of free expression. For me it functions on dual levels both as an intensely personal record of my child's growth and development and as an artistic exploration which taught me much about my own practice, my own parenting and the dangers and joys of creating work from real life. It is a project that grew and developed I created it and continues to be a site of discovery even several years after the final photo was taken.
Secret Landscapes (2003-2009)
All For Your Delight (2006) and Spit (2007)
Threshold (1995-1996) and Viktor's Placenta (2002)
Ripeness Is All 400 People (1999-2004)
From the Car, (2006) with Frank Ekeberg
2 Channel Video and Sound Installation
In 2002 when I moved my family to Phoenix after five years of living in Northern Europe we found ourselves in a state of shock. We spent weeks waiting for our furniture, clothes, toys and equipment to arrive with an infant and a four year old and an empty house and weather far too hot for any outdoor activity. Not sure what else to do, we found solace in driving. We put the kids in the car, turned on the AC, turned on NPR and drove—looking for something in this strange, hot dry landscape. Passing strip malls, and concrete, cacti that we had only known in movies and photos and unimaginably repressive heat. The only way I knew how to cope was to video tape it, trying to make sense of this strange place we had found ourselves.
A few years later after the shock had worn off, curators Heather Seeley Lineberry and John Spiak put out a call for Phoenix artists to create work responding to the idea of Phoenix as the “New American City”. Remembering how we had felt those first few weeks, we proposed a four channel video with surround sound, recreating the experience we had in our first few weeks in Phoenix. We were chosen to create our piece and a build out was created for the video/sound installation piece.
The result was a two-channel video comprised of 2 hours each of continuous video—driving for an hour (until the dv tape ran out) in a single direction. Beginning from Pioneer Square in the center of Phoenix we shot four separates videos one each to the North/South/East and West. The videos were played adjacent to each other—North/South and East/West as the one hour sound composition—with sounds taken from the route and other Phoenix based sources-- plays on the four speakers in surround sound.