Photographer Alice Schoolcraft had an interesting upbringing. Half-Swedish and half-American, her family flitted between Sweden, Denmark and Spain and spent most of their summers in the US until Alice eventually moved to the UK to study. “Throughout my childhood, there was a single photograph that we had of my dad’s distant American side of the family,” she recalls of that time. “I remember looking at this photo when I was a child and thinking that my dad’s family were real cowboys!”
Alice’s country-hopping childhood today informs her creative practice, she explains: “Growing up in different countries had a significant impact on my life because it gave me a sense of always feeling like I was on the outside of society and this outsider-insider perspective is something that is extremely useful in documentary photography.” This sense of perspective, and the memory of that single photograph of her American family, combine in Alice’s latest project titled Schoolcraft.
A book published by Bemojake, it tells the story of Alice getting know this side of her family who, while geographically distant to Alice’s Swedish roots, also led lives entirely different from her own. “Through that photo, I knew they existed but it wasn’t until about seven years ago that I met my father’s cousin Myles for the first time,” Alice tells us. “There was a definite biological connection to my father, yet Myles was so different. He hunted bear and deer and collected old guns and flew remote-controlled aeroplanes, launched backyard rockets and made his own bullets.”
Alice continues: “When I met him, he started talking to the birds in the neighbour’s tree while barbecuing ribs. It was all very surreal. He invited my family to come visit him and shoot some guns. I remember him saying, ‘Alice, I have the perfect gun for you, you are going to love it.’ I had never held or heard a real gun, but I think I knew right then that I wanted to visit, mostly because of the curiosity about this other side of my family. Three years ago, I sent Myles an email asking if I could visit and document his family and two weeks later I was sleeping in a trailer in their backyard about to learn how to butcher quail.”
Schoolcraft, as with many of Alice’s projects, darts between carefully-composed medium format images and less polished snapshots, creating a contrast that embodies Alice’s biological connection yet unfamiliarity to her American relatives. “I shot everything on film and decided not to show them any of the photographs prior to finishing the project,” Alice explains. “The reason was simply I didn’t want them to read too much into the images before I was finished with them and I wanted to avoid any tendency to overthink things.” As a result, there is also a spontaneity and genuine sense of narrative throughout the series, as we get to know the family exactly as Alice did.
The project was not, of course, without its challenges. Alice had travelled half way across the world to meet a group of essentially strangers with very different views to her own after all. “The biggest challenge was to avoid getting into discussions about values, politics and religion,” she tells us. Despite this, “I wanted to document their lives and not my own,” she says. “I was just so curious about what they do, and how they live and their values, that my background and views didn’t matter.” In turn, Alice hopes that the images shed light on American gun culture, but that they also shed a light on “the tight bond of an American family and the values and lifestyle that they share.”
While the project began as a straight-forward documentation of a side of her family she had never known, it ended as a contemplation on what her life could have been if she’d grown up in America and not in Europe. Alice concludes: “I saw a lot of myself in Jessica, the daughter in the family, even though we are very different people with very different lifestyles and that is not something that I expected to experience when I started the project. It’s my hope that people find something in this book that they didn’t expect to experience as well.”
Schoolcraft is available to pre-order from Bemojake now.
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