Luminous Endowment Michael Reichmann Grant Recipient
An American Family
I was born and raised in Strasburg, PA and lived in New York City for many years, working as a bartender. That’s where I met my girlfriend, who I moved to Sweden and started a family with. I have now lived in Stockholm since 2013.
I applied for the grant because I had just spent some time with my parents in PA while my mom was really sick. I came home to Stockholm with a bunch of images that I felt had a very personal meaning to me. I had no previous experience in photography, only an urge tell my family story. The story I wanted to tell coincided with the 10-year anniversary of my brother’s mass shooting and suicide. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to show that however cataclysmic the events of October 2006 were, my family wasn’t broken apart.
I was first inspired to take pictures after I had purchased a good camera in the summer of 2015. My mom received news from her doctor that she had six months to live in October of that year. I didn’t really have a plan other than that I wanted to be with my mother during this final phase of her life and spend more time with the rest of my family which I felt I wasn’t as close to as I wanted to be.
My biggest challenge was that I was new to photography. I had a story or at least a large premise for one. How I would go about this was completely unknown to me. I began looking at a lot of photography, there were a lot of early Magnum photographers that I was really drawn to. I began to really appreciate the visual language these photographers mastered. A great challenge was finding my own visual language to tell this story. When it came to storytelling I just let the moment be my guide. It could be a moment with my entire family on vacation at my dad’s hunting cabin, or my brothers lounging in the sofa, or at home with the sun setting and lighting up a room beautifully. Those moments were what drove me to take pictures that I felt contained something.
The most important thing that I learned doing this project is that it’s important to take your time. I guess I had the luxury of inexperience where I was free to just do whatever felt right. I didn’t over-shoot as well, I didn’t want my family to get annoyed or feel like I was being overly intrusive, so I just once in a while took out the camera and snapped a few shots. I guess what I am trying to say is don’t be trigger happy, wait for the moments and be ready.
All the funds went to setting up and having an amazing exhibition in my hometown at a gallery for the 10-year anniversary. My mom is still with us and she came to the exhibition, which meant a great deal to me. I also took part in a group exhibition here in Stockholm with the same series. I did everything I hoped. For me doing this project about a very sensitive aspect of my family history and to be able to have the resources to complete the project had great meaning for me and my family.
If I would give a piece of advice to other photographers who would like to pursue their own personal projects, it would be to go for it, to not be afraid to get personal and expose yourself. I personally needed it; for me it was a healthy journey. I am closer to other members of my family as a result of it. It has also helped me be more open about what happened with my broth.