Intimate and unpredictable, Emma Hardy documents her family over 20 years

Now compiled in a book published by Gost, the series captures the precious nature of family life.

14 March 2023


In 2017, we caught a glimpse of what was later to become Emma Hardy’s photo series and now book, Permissions, published by Gost. From airport waiting rooms, garden frolics and lazy TV viewing, the photos captured a seemingly harmonious and idyllic familial existence. Since then, much has changed for the photographer.

Very soon after our first meeting, Emma had to leave and sell her family home; her marriage had broken down, her father had died, and later her dog also passed. Under what Emma describes as “immense time pressure”, she had to leave her “beloved” home and find a new place to live. Still continuing to photograph, some of the images of that period now sit within Permissions, their inclusion signifying the truly unpredictable nature of family life. They also exist as a reminder that, sometimes, it’s powerful to remember and reflect on such difficult moments rather than trying to forget – a message Emma wishes to transmit throughout the whole powerful project.


Emma Hardy: Permissions (Copyright © Emma Hardy, 2022)

It was when Emma was raising her three young children that she began pursuing a career as a photographer, building her own black and white darkroom from her home. And then, it was during a class at college that Emma’s specific focus was inspired, after her tutor instructed her to “photograph what you know and love the most”. Soon, Emma realised that the perfect subjects and locations were surrounding her – her three children, her mother and their family home.

Emma set herself the task to challenge her position as a “young wife and mother living in a typical social construct” by “making images that felt meaningful, beyond the normalised family photo album type pictures”. To achieve this, Emma was interested in the “female gaze” and looked to other female documentarians, like Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, Mary Ellen Mark and particularly Annelies Štrba, for her long-term familial project. Additionally, Emma also referenced the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, a period she studied at school and loved for its “colour, form and often dramatic light and shade”.


Emma Hardy: Permissions (Copyright © Emma Hardy, 2022)

Creating such a direct focus on evocative colour and light helped Emma to capture the strong feelings and emotions she had as she gazed at her children. Alongside the home Emma had created, the natural environment also played a significant role in allowing such dramatic aesthetics; it seems there is a near equal divide between images taken indoors, those taken in her garden and in the luscious countryside of her then Suffolk home. “What is more beautiful than weather playing across land and trees and water in ways that you can’t control or predict, you can only wonder and observe?” Emma ponders.

One image that captures this sentiment is Nape. “My eldest daughter didn’t like being photographed and usually I completely respected this,’ Emma outlines. “When I raised my camera she scowled and dropped out of the shot – but I took the picture anyway. Everything was too beautiful to miss.” Emma draws our attention to the way the light catches the nape of her daughter’s neck, the stray hairs falling from her bun, the undercut growing out, and her boyfriend’s hand resting on a wall in the corner of the shot. It’s a beautiful image, one that captures the self-consciousness of adolescence and subtly points toward signifiers of youth. “I stole this picture, and that’s not really ok.” Emma contemplates. “Though I comfort myself with its delicate beauty and hold it up as a reminder to tread carefully, always.”

Reflecting on the series as a whole, Emma hopes that people will be able to connect with the feelings throughout, perhaps finding something that resonates with their own childhoods or experiences with motherhood. Emma concludes by saying, “so much heart and love went into its creation, it would be satisfying to know that this has been translated”.

GalleryEmma Hardy: Permissions (Copyright © Emma Hardy, 2022)

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Emma Hardy: Permissions (Copyright © Emma Hardy, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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