The Sabina Series

When my parents pleaded with teary eyes for us to stop, I knew they meant it. It was 2014, and by then my sister and I couldn’t even make it to the grocery store without pulling our hair out. Our five-year age separation was brutal. I remember leaving a fight with fresh red scratches from the top of my forehead to the bottom of my chin. We were both striving for significance and recognition in our family, so we reviled each other to succeed.

Our relationship affected not only us, but everyone around us. I wasn’t sure why were so hateful to each other at the time, but I grew curious about my cherubic fiery-haired sister and our volatile relationship. I started photographing her in 2014 in our house in Cincinnati — I was 16 and she was 11. Through portraiture, I explored our troubled connection. The first image in the series depicts her at 11, and the last, taken just this year, depicts her at 16. The two images were made in the same room of our house four years apart. When I photograph Sabina, I focus not on how she looks, but how it feels to be around her.

When posing for a portrait, subjects often experience an intense feeling of vulnerability. And I was surprised to find my aloof sister was no exception. In 2014, Sabina and I started to spend hours talking to each other for the first time. I would show her the images I was making, and together we’d find the light and angle to make the portrait work. I remember the first image I took of her in our laundry room—the second photo in this series. This is my first memory of us talking without hostility. We finally had something in common that utilized our different talents. Portraiture involves delicate conversation that enables reflection and growth. The process of making images together and expressing ourselves created a new form of communication that helped us develop empathy; it was this newfound intimacy that allowed us to reconnect.

Educator and photographer Ralph Hattersley once said, “We … [make] photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.” Making portraits together has turned our vulnerability into collaboration. Now that Sabina and I communicate more frequently and kindly, I realize how far our relationship has come since that first photograph. Photographing her still allows us to strengthen our connection, and just like our relationship, our photographic process is continuously evolving as we make new images together.

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