When I started building my Sibling Revelry Project I only had a vague plan for how the photo sessions would go. I knew I wanted to shoot images that were more documentary than posed, and I knew I wanted to include some of the conversations that naturally grow out of any photo shoot. Beyond that, I left myself open to possibilities.
What evolved were mini-narratives….Vignettes for each set of siblings. I soon found myself preparing questions ahead of time and developing a rhythm to the photo sessions until I found that Just Right vibe.
It's been a process, but the question of “How do you do this?” has become a frequent one so I thought I would answer that and a few more common inquiries.
How does this all work? What does it look like?
I spend about an hour with my subjects, unless the group is particularly large (the family of 7 siblings) or there is beer involved (the family of 5 siblings). One of my requirements is that we meet somewhere that is familiar and comfortable for everyone. Often that is at a home, but sometimes it’s a park. (This one was at a neighborhood park where all the kids grew up going daily. It was like their second home.) I talk, shoot and walk around with the siblings. They show me their favorite places to hang out, and if I get lucky they forget about the camera.
How do you take notes and shoot a camera?
Technology is my friend! I use my phone to record the interview, along with a super dorky belt clip phone case so both hands can be on my camera. EXCEPT for the time I forget my case…and had to rig up a MacGyver solution using random items I found in my car.
Do you plan what you’re going to ask in advance?
I sketch out questions beforehand but also follow my subjects’ lead and let our conversation stray if it’s interesting. Even after the interview, I don’t always know what the the narrative will be until I sit down, re-listen to the audio, and compare with the images I shot. I never know how it’s going to end before I start. That’s the fun part!
How do you pick your subjects?
I started by photographing siblings I already knew and then everything grew organically from there…friends of friends were recommended to me or approached me on their own. Right now I’m only shooting in Austin, but I would love to expand my reach at some point. If you have suggestions, send me a note!
What do you look for in your subjects?
I’m always looking for interesting stories of siblings of all ages and backgrounds. The common denominator is that the subjects are willing to engage with me. Of course sometimes with young kids you don’t know how they will react—and even the most extroverted 3 year-old may clam up when a stranger shows up with a camera. So I don’t push it, but somehow I’ve been able to make it work every time.
Do the subjects get to pick the photos or quotes?
No. In fact, the families don’t even see the results until they are published. I typically roll out the photos a couple at a time over the course of a few days. A slow reveal. The subjects see the photos along with the rest of the Instagram/Facebook audiences, and many have said they love experiencing the images this way.
How is the experience for your subjects?
It definitely takes a certain mix of confidence and vulnerability to be photographed in general, and when you add the interview piece to it…well, it takes it to another level. But one of my skills, which shows up in every personality test I’ve ever taken, is my ability to empathize and set people at ease. I can talk to anyone. As my mom was fond of saying, “You've never met a stranger.”
For reals, what do subjects say afterward?
They say kind words like this...
“I don’t even know how to say THANKS for including us in this project. Every photo completely captures them, and these moments are a joy to have.”
-Mom of 2 siblings
“Thanks very much for photographing us and putting such care into the interaction and product. It was really valuable to spend that focused time with my siblings.”
-One of 7 siblings
“It is the NEATEST experience! I will treasure these for the rest of my life.”
-Mom of 3 siblings
“You are magical.”
-Mom of 2 siblings
“I am crying. So much. So much gratitude to you.”
-Mom of 4 siblings
Why did you decide to do this?
I’ve always been fascinated by family dynamics, especially between siblings. I grew up with two brothers and we had very tight (sometimes contentious) relationships and we still remain close today. My brothers absolutely helped shape who I am today, and I'm so grateful to them. As a mom of three, I have loved watching my kids grow and learn with and from each other. For better or worse, I believe one of the best gifts we’ve given them is each other. Years ago I tried to capture this sibling dynamic in essay form and then on stage, and now I’m trying to capture it in a brand new way. I don’t know what to say except that it’s a subject that resonates deeply with me.
Can you interview my dog siblings?
Um, can you provide a reliable translator?
I’m still shooting and interviewing regularly and trying to post at least two sets of siblings every month. I’m also researching some funding options so I can expand the project into something beyond your digital screen. Stay tuned!
Can we be besties?
Yes please! You can start by checking out my latest images and sharing the project far and wide. Then tell me what you're up to so I can do the same! Some handy links for you: siblingrevelryproject.com or instagram.com/siblingrevelryproject.
If you have any other burning questions, drop me a note in the comments.
As always, I appreciate your enthusiasm and support!