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!
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