The relationship between sisters is, of course, a unique but also complex one. At once perhaps the person(s) you are most familiar with, there’s no doubt it’s a bond defined by trust, competition, love and understanding among many other things. It’s this lifetime connection that London-based photographer, Sophie Harris-Taylor, has spent the last two years capturing in order to understand it further.
“For years, I felt this pressure to conform and have a kind of relationship with my own sister that for so many reasons didn’t come naturally. Certain things in those formative late teenage years left us at some distance,” Sophie explains of the origins of her latest series, Sisters. Wanting to explore the dynamics of sisterhood further, she set about documenting and interviewing sets of sisters, of which she now has just under 80.
Recently published as a book by Hoxton Mini Press, the project offers an insight into the lives of multiple girls and women through portraits accompanied by short snippets of text. When meeting with each set of sisters, she first asked them to sit, capturing them in natural arrangements, before then interviewing them. “It was almost like a calm before the storm – having their photos taken first helped them sit in silence (which is often quite rare for sisters) and reflect on what they wanted to talk about,” she explains.
As a result, the images are tranquil and intimate. Each portrait expresses both individuality and collectivity, sitting somewhere between a snapshot and a more formal family portrait. “The fact that they come from the same home, are usually born in the same era, are the same gender and spend a lifetime developing together make sisterhood a fascinating and unusual example of human development and dynamics,” says Sophie.
Although short, each accompanying quotation offers insight be it through humour or something more emotive. “This part was really difficult,” Sophie reflects, “some of the interviews were an hour long and to sum this up in a very short quote, out of context from the rest of the conversation, was really tricky.” Despite this, the texts are incredibly moving. Anna and Kate are one pair who are featured in the book. They are pictured resting on each other’s shoulders, the tight crop serving to highlight the incredible similarities between their blue eyes, arched eyebrows and freckles. To the left of their portrait, Kate remarks, “I’m envious. But not in a negative way. I think Anna is so ridiculously talented and beautiful, and I’m quite jealous that she’s taller than me and has more freckles.” To which Anna responds: “It’s exactly the same for me – envious – because Kate’s the better looking, more talented, brainier achiever of the family.”
Used to working one-on-one with her subjects, it’s the image of Clara, Flo, Millie, Cecily, Oki and Bea that provides the most gratification for Sophie. The six girls, from a family of nine, are captured in their parents’ bedroom. “Despite all being mature for their age, they also have this amazingly charming warmth and innocence about them, which I hope comes through in this image,” says Sophie. When asked to arrange themselves, they “all jumped on the bed and organically composed themselves leaning on each other.” This familial, supportive aura is only further by the Madonna hanging above their heads which both reinforces parental symbolism and provides a sense of protection and purpose to the scene.
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