Uncensored and candid, Kaitlin Maxwell photographs her mother and grandma Candy
Since 2015, the New York-based photographer has been taking pictures of the women in her family. Here, she tells us more about the captivating subject.
- Ayla Angelos
- 7 April 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Before starting high school, Kaitlin Maxwell was unaware of how honest you could be with image-making. Then, having discovered the work of Elinor Carlucci and Nan Goldin for the first time, it got her thinking: “how incredible it was that they were letting me into their lives.” She tells It’s Nice That, “Their work really resonated with me because I had never seen vulnerability exemplified like that before. That’s when I realised how free and uncensored you can truly be with photography, and I knew that it was what I needed.”
Currently based in New York, Kaitlin received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2016 and pursued an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2019, during which she was awarded the Richard Benson Prize. Working across both editorial and documentary, the photographer’s work has been exhibited widely in New York at Yancey Richardson Gallery, Theirry Goldberg Gallery, SVA Gallery, as well as in New Haven at Yale School of Art – and rightly so, for Kaitlin has become well-versed in her chosen medium.
“I feel that my work is an exploration and a visual representation of me trying to figure out and make sense of my life,” she continues to explain of her reasons for taking pictures. “Life can be a difficult thing to navigate and I want to share my experience of doing so with the world. I like to think of my work as a window into my life and an encapsulation of me attempting to dissect the issues of self-reflection, identity, sexuality, femininity and objectification.”
Kaitlin’s most recent ongoing series encompasses these themes and aims entirely. Since 2015, she has been photographing two of the closest people to her – her mother and grandmother – in order to better understand the dynamic within their relationship. Before this project came about, Kaitlin was photographing the intimacy between herself and her partner at the time. “As that came to an end, I realised that my relationships with women hadn’t been explored photographically,” she says. “My grandmother, mother and myself have always had a very close and intimate dynamic; as I got older, I began to realise how complex the both of them are as individuals.” Initially intending to focus solely on her grandmother and her history, the project began to evolve and a wider context was to be explored.
Although the series features self-portraits and pictures of all three women, Grandma Candy is undoubtedly the protagonist. “She’s one of the most captivating people I have ever known,” says Kaitlin when asked if she could explain a little bit about their relationship. “She’s my muse.” The two have always been extraordinarily close, but things started to change as she got older and began to learn more about herself. As Kaitlin entered her early 20s and started to observe the complexities within her grandma, the photographer wanted to uncover what exactly her story was. “She grew up in a small town in Indiana and comes from a religious family. It wasn’t until she entered into her mid 30s that she truly started to feel comfortable living her life the way she wanted to,” says Kaitlin. “As the years went on, she began exploring her sexuality and desires, allowing herself to be free. This is something that will forever inspire me.”
Exemplary of the ways in which we should all live our lives care-free and unconstrained, Kaitlin discusses the fact that women have always been told how to dress, what to talk about and how to be with others. “[Candy] is someone who negates all of those ideals and follows what she wants. These are all the things that I didn’t realise or understand until I began making work about her.” So the more that Kaitlin photographed her grandma, the more she would learn – like a history book being photographed in order to learn about the world’s past.
A photograph from the very start of the project is one that Kaitlin points out as being most impactful. Taken in Key West, Florida at her grandparents house, this was the first time she photographed Candy. With her eccentric wardrobe in tow, she asked her to wear her favourite outfit for the shoot – she pulls out a tank top from the bedroom. They spent the whole day shooting, taking about each other’s past and discussing things that she would never have known prior. “As this photo was being made, I could physically feel the walls breaking down between us, and I was able to see her opening up more,” she concludes. “This is one of the most intimate photographs I’ve ever taken of her, and it is the one image that sets everything in motion for me. I believe this photograph embodies everything about Grandma Candy.”