In my series, In the Presence of Family: Brooklyn Portraits, I document the concept of family as defined by the subjects in my photographs—through their familiarity, closeness and commitment, but also through their heterogeneity, openness and diversity.
Photographing people in familial relations began in 1999 and has spanned the next two decades. The series unveils interactions and relationships between individuals in family situations from neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn. It explores issues of race, gender, class and family diversity, highlighting the connections that transcend the categories our society commonly uses to define the family. These images raise our awareness of those around us, of their differences, struggles and achievements, and generate understanding that ultimately leads toward a higher degree of empathy and tolerance. Learning to appreciate these connections—whether blood relationships or not—enriches the lives of all.
As Charlotta Kotik, Curator Emerita, Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum, states in her essay about this project, “The nuclear family –father, mother, children – is no longer a prevailing model. The structure is dramatically changing. Newly created families with children from previous marriages, gay and lesbian partners, children within same sex families, multi-racial adoption, and of course, one parent families are all part of our world and all are documented in the work.”
I’ve published several books based on this series. The first is the same title. The second is Revisiting: In the Presence of Family, Brooklyn Portraits. This book provides a seven-year photographic history of the families from my first book. Family portraits provide the visual evidence of shared memories. When we revisit them, we see how truly temporal they are, especially in an era that increasingly turns our most basic relationships into newsbites or consumer transactions.