At March’s Nicer Tuesdays, self-taught photographer Alexander Coggin immersed the audience in a world of golf clubs, endless summers and “hetero-Americana” via his project Brothers and Others, which documents his husband’s family with humour and tenderness on their yearly summer holiday in upstate Michigan.
Trained as an actor, Alexander became listless with the theatre world and turned to photography after he was gifted a camera by his then-boyfriend-now-husband. At the time the pair were living close to his husband’s large family in Michigan and he began shooting the four brothers, two step-sisters, their partners and children, building up his technical and storytelling skills, he told the audience. “I became obsessed with fitting the things I loved about theatre – character, narrative, complicating a plot, or magical realism – and putting it into still imagery. With taking something very alive and putting it within four borders, and with authorship,” explained Alexander.
Soon after, the couple moved to Berlin but would return to visit family during the summer holidays, gradually acclimatising his in-laws to being in front of the lens. “Finding my role in his large Midwestern family was a challenge, but being an observer from behind a camera helped me understand these dynamics and understand my role within the complex familial structure,” he said.
Brothers and Others has been an ongoing project since 2011 and follows Alexander’s changing relationship with his new extended family, from feeling like an outsider, to being welcomed in, to growing into an integral part of the gang. It both documents and complicates the gendered, performative existence expected of his in-laws by their middle-class peers, and lovingly captures moments when the personas slip. Slowly, the family members stopped noticing when he was shooting them, allowing for moments of intimacy, humour and joy that really make you feel like part of the family. “Spending so much time with them on the other side of the lens has just brought such empathy and warmth,” he told us.