Sisterly is a series of photographs depicting gestures synonymous with sisterhood and reflective of my own relationship with my younger sisters and close friends of my youth. These poses are reenacted by adult women, underlining the oddity of these actions when performed outside of adolescence. During my pregnancy and delivery, I felt a sense of loss about the sisterly comfort I once had. This physical bond felt severed. In the hours of labor and challenging physical moments afterward— healing, learning to breastfeed, the anxieties of new parenthood— these thoughts and feelings of longing stayed with me:
“I need my sisters. I wish my best friend was here right now.”
During events of significance, of ceremony, of turmoil, the need of the physical presence of family and friends is strongest. When confronted with moments of great vulnerability, physical and emotional strain, and exposure, there are few people you might let into the room. As I laid nearly bare, in front of my midwife and nurses, thinking I need my sisters, I also thought of how difficult and awkward it might be if they were there. Would they have stayed in the room? That particular thought is one that nagged at me and split into many other questions—questions about relationship and the female body. I wondered why it might be uncomfortable to have my sisters there, whom I grew up sharing a bedroom with, bathing with, etc., yet I could be surrounded by strangers without awkwardness. As a new mother, a woman has ongoing empowering and demeaning experiences with her body, from continuous changes she must adapt to, to having another human need you so deeply, to fielding unconsidered questions and comments of strangers and acquaintances. The conversations, even brief ones, are telling of the singular way our culture says the female body should be viewed — as an object of desire.
In parallel, a female body entering puberty, transitioning into womanhood, has to confront equally challenging physical and social changes. This is a time females begin putting up barriers between themselves and their parents, between one another, and between themselves and men. It’s difficult for an adolescent girl to create boundaries at the same time they begin to desire letting someone through those boundaries. Often these boundaries are enforced with more concern for how girls are perceived than their wellbeing. These photographs suspend that context, placing two characters into crystalized moments of conflict and comfort. Reflecting on intimate rituals such as hair braiding, sleep overs, and fighting, I hope to unearth conclusions on the natural and imposed sources of the loss of the adolescent sisterly bond.
This work is dedicated my sisters — Christina, Vanessa, Olivia, Bianka, and Bethany — and to the women who have guided by path into motherhood — Shawna, Debbie, Katalin, Sharon, Bettie, and Laura.
Special thanks to Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Melody Boyd, and Josh Huskin.