Over the past year, London-based photographer Hollie Fernando has been taking the most thoughtfully candid portraits of her younger brother, Max. Hollie’s brother is 12 years younger than her, but the age gap and a sibling in-between (who is also a regular muse of the photographer’s) the two hasn’t stopped the pair from being close, incredibly close really.
Kickstarted by a holiday to America when Max was 11, the series has developed while Max was 12, shot just before he became a teenager. The whole project, an exclusive preview of which is below, will open at Doomed Gallery in Dalston this week, with a private view on 5 July before being shown over the weekend from 7 — 8 July.
As they’re Hollie’s photographs, and her brother lensed within them, we thought we’d leave it up to her to tell the full story.
It’s Nice That: Can you tell us what you remember around the time your brother was born?
Hollie Fernando: Max was born in 2004 when I was also 12 years old, a fact that only dawned on me recently. It’s a real coincidence that I ended up documenting him at the same age that I was when he was born. I have such a bad memory generally, which is probably one of the reasons why I started taking photos in the first place, but I remember a lot around the time of Mum’s pregnancy and everything around the time of Max being born. I got to take the day off school to go visit him in the hospital and just remember being so excited that I was crying tears of joy, which wasn’t the case when my younger sister, Jess, and I were both first told that Mum was having another baby. It’s on a videotape somewhere but I burst into tears and told my Dad “it was a scam” whilst Jess just screamed.
After he was born I wanted to be the second mum to Max, feeding him and changing nappies and even got up in the nights to help when he didn’t sleep through. I absolutely loved it and he was (and still is) the happiest kid.
INT: The series displays how the two of you appear to be incredibly close — has it always been like this?
HF: We have always been super close! There was a little period of time when I was around 16/17 and started having more freedom to go out that we wouldn’t see each other as much. But, my Dad had a word with me and said relationships in life are meant to be nurtured and if I didn’t nurture ours then we wouldn’t have a bond when we were older. This really hit home and I made way more effort after. I also think because the age gap is so big we have actually surpassed that clash where he would be the ‘annoying little brother’ (my sister Jess, who is only 4 years younger than me, took this role). I’m probably more like the ‘annoying second mum to him’ sometimes! But Max and I have really similar interests and personality traits, same as my Dad too so we’re a right trio and I know that him having two older sisters has led to a higher-than-the-average-13-year-old maturity level, so I always forget his age these days.
INT: When did you begin this series? Was it a conscious decision or did your brother regularly become a feature in your photographs?
HF: I had taken his portrait loads before but never thought to do a series as I had my sister and friends that I would focus on most of the time. But I began the project while I was away with my family on a summer holiday a few years ago with the absence of Jess (my usual muse). As Jess wasn’t able to be with us on this trip I turned my lens to Max and opened up a whole new chapter to our relationship.
I had a small road-trip style zine in mind at the end of it, but once I started looking at Max in this new light I had this huge realisation that he was in such a pivotal moment in his life – that delicate balancing limbo between being a child and a young adult. I knew I had to carry on and delve deeper so set myself the whole year until he was officially a ‘teen’ at 13, documenting this brief moment of youth that everyone experiences. I love how projects like this all fall into place at the right time, it’s when you know they’re highly personal to you; as if you were destined to find the path all along.
INT: Another series of yours has featured your sister too, what do you enjoy about photographing family members?
HF: Fitting quote from my favourite photographer Sally Mann: “The things that are close to you are the things you can photograph the best. And unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.” I have this up on my wall next to my desk and it’s so true. The difference in feelings I get from photographing my own flesh and blood in comparison to a stranger is obviously way more personal and intimate. I am also very lucky that I have such a beautiful and confident family to exploit.
INT: What does your brother think of the photographs?
HF: He’s recently told me how he thinks it’s very cool to have a set of photographs to see what you looked like at a certain age “to see how you’ve grown”, but is a little embarrassed about the image of his dirty jagged toenails!
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.