Breathing Familiar: Alex Crétey Systermans
On this week’s episode of On Taking Pictures, one of the things that Bill and I discussed was a series of photographs, called Mother, by photographer Elinor Carucci. An article in The Telegraph said, “In Mother you sense all this – her fears, worries, the tears, love and laughter.” Much of the commentary and feedback over the images praises Carucci for her honesty in the photographs. Neither Bill nor I was very taken by them and, to be honest, both of us thought that they felt a little staged, as if they were trying too hard to be honest and important. One of our listeners took away something very different from them and wrote me a wonderful email to discuss. In it, he describes both his reaction to them, as well as the reaction of his wife, who he said found them so moving, she cried. I won’t include the letter here, but I will say I appreciated it very much, one because it forced me to go back for another look at the photos but, more than that, it inspired me to really spend some time unpacking why they had not moved me in the same way that they have moved so many others. In addition to some really introspective and thought-provoking questions, the email contained a list of photographers that the listener thought I may like, including Alex Crétey Systermans, whose work really resonated with me, much more so than the work of Carucci. Systermans’ photos feel much more personal to me, perhaps because on some level, looking at his photographs feel like looking back on my own childhood. The aptly titled set Familiar is filled with the light, the tones and the scenes of my memories, perhaps even of a collective memory. I often wonder if at some point all family photos (or photos of families, if you prefer) begin to at least approach a Universal Familiar.