Alexander Coggin photographs a topsy-turvy year through the children in his life
Alexander has had to radically rethink his practice this year but he’s held onto his ability to express the oddities of every day life.
- Ruby Boddington
- 2 December 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Alexander Coggin is a photographer who’s always turned his lens outwards; to his family, strangers on the street and the idiosyncrasies of every day life so, when lockdown first began in the UK back in March, the first thing he had to do was reevaluate. “All of that came to a screeching halt, which was at first destabilising but I see now as a huge gift,” he tells It’s Nice That. By slowing down, Alexander has managed to recalibrate his practice “away from hunting and towards building. It gives me a lot more control, which feels necessary and therapeutic right now, given the state of the world.”
This began with what he could find indoors which was his partner Michael and the objects that inhabit their home. Alexander looked into photographic studio clichés like nudes, flowers and headshots and how he could adopt those tropes but through his perspective instead. “Building character instead of hunting for character has allowed me to feel more like a creator and isolate what I love about photography: basing my work in reality while heightening it to another plane. Magical realism,” he adds.
Culminating in a series titled Quar, this exploration holds onto to the absurd, brightly-lit vistas we’ve come to love so much about Alexander’s work, but with a new take. It’s one rooted in still life photography rather than street photography but which retains Alexander’s ability to draw our attention to overlooked but totally familiar elements of our lives. In Quar, he acknowledges the heightened role the domestic space has played in all our lives this year by quite literally shining a light on it. The series also encapsulates many of the emotions we have experienced this year, as Michael plays out “anxiety or boredom or media codependence for the camera.”
As the year went on and a break in travel restrictions presented itself, Alexander and Michael travelled to upstate Michigan to visit family and Alexander took the opportunity to continue his ongoing body of work, Brothers & Others. Alexander has been shooting the series for ten years now, honing in on a panorama of comfort, stability and privilege, almost turning the members of his family into archetypes of these concepts. This year, though, he chose specifically to focus on the children of the family, expressing how topsy-turvy this year has been for them.
“Especially in March/April, my inner kid was super scared and destabilised. I’ve been very honed into those feelings, and, through the children in my life, I see them reflected back to me constantly,” Alexander explains. “There’s this omnipresent push-pull with myself where I’m trying to decipher if the kids are actually feeling that way or if I’m feeling that way and merely photographically projecting. It’s usually a mix of both.” It was these ideas that Alexander worked through with his camera in-hand during his time in Michigan and which are reflected in the latest instalment of Brothers & Others.
One image which Alexander points to surmise these notions in particular, shows a barn and a football field. Describing it as a “contextual overture” to the work, he explains that he took the photo on their drive up to Michigan and “before we start to look at these intimate snapshots of family life, it’s a good scene-setting image for the destabilisation of the rest of the world, especially rural America.”
An image which continues some of the themes Alexander has continuously explored in Brothers & Others shows Michael cast as a parent. As gay men, their time spent in Michigan with family draws into sharp focus, their life values “against the heteronormative lives of his three older brothers, all fathers.” And while their family embraces and relishes “in this kind of diversity,” the image allowed Alexander to “imagine a future in which my partner is also a parent. Through the camera, we swim in an expansive alternate timeline in which Michael is no longer the queer and youngest brother, but acting out a heterofiction, overwhelmed with fatherhood. Is this the future I’ve missed? Could this have been what our life looked like, if childrearing was a priority?”
Another distinct development in Brothers & Others is a technical one, in that Alexander has been experimenting with lighting larger scenes, which achieves two things. “Firstly, it allows for more character and interpersonal relationships to appear, so there’s more to ‘read’ in any given photograph,” Alexander says. But it also means he’s far less obscure as a photographer, and his family is much more aware of when he’s taking a photo, allowing them “to perform, to co-create,” something he hopes will continue in years to come.
Looking ahead, Alexander has plans to turn the first ten years of Brothers & Others into a book, approaching it episodically. “2020 is an incredibly interesting time to work these images into a book as they revolve so much around an snapshot-y insider view of a family unit that benefits from sitting atop Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and I look forward to complicating these themes and moments of heightened reality into a linear story,” he outlines. “Mirroring structures of Theatre, I’m consciously looking at conventions of overtures, acts, intermissions, dénouements and dramaturgy and using those as structural inspiration as I’m putting the book together.”
Alexander Coggin: Brothers & Others (Copright © Alexander Coggin, 2020)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.