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Kevin Francis Sweeney
Family/Self is a twenty-four hour cross-section of my immediate family. My family is a subject I know intimately but seldom consider with more than a snapshot. We are three individuals living together with common and individual goals that are sometimes at odds. This essay depicts a slice of an amorphous entity that does not represent the whole or even the surface adequately, but perhaps only the structure at a single point in time. These photographs are the result of a last day attempt to complete a photo essay for a David Alan Harvey workshop in my new home of Austin, Texas. The workshop was organized by the Austin Center for Photography to coincide with the South by Southwest Music Festival.
Although there were numerous photographic opportunities to look at the mix of both traditional Texas and “weird” Austin culture, I found it hard to escape the needs of my family. I documented one twenty-four hour period at home because frankly I had a deadline and no time to photograph anything else.
I am a documentary photographer and graphic designer, and my wife is a physician. We have a three-year-old daughter and two dogs. All of us are trying to negotiate between time for each other and time for ourselves. When we are working we think about home. When we are home, we think about work. We enjoy spending time together, but when the moments become mundane we tend to veer off on our own. When we have time for our own leisure or personal pursuits, we often feel guilty that we are away from each other. These images were taken from one afternoon to another during my daughter’s spring vacation. We spent the day at home and went out to dinner with friends. The following morning, there was no school or work but by afternoon we all had things we wanted to do. For me this was an exercise to find a new perspective of my family as well as myself. In the end it was time well spent with my wife and daughter.
Kevin Francis Sweeney is a documentary photographer and graphic designer. Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1973, he grew up in Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of Tulane University and the School of Visual Arts. He has shown his work in several group exhibitions at the Design Center of Austin, Texas, the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain, the Visual Arts Museum in New York, the Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh, and in the Galerie Deset at the Waldes Museum in Prague. Kevin is completing a long-term personal project titled Sixteen Sundays: Worshiping the Pittsburgh Steelers. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and daughter.
44 thoughts on “kevin sweeney – family/self”
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Hi Kevin, for sure the subject is worthwhile, but to be explored on a much deeper level.. hope you’ll do it in the days, months, years to come!
I agree with eva.
I personally don’t think 24 hours and “a last day attempt to complete a photo essay” could do the subject justice.
Maybe the fact the images just left me wanting to see more means they worked on some level? I dunno?
In my opinion the last picture of your kid watching telly, is indeed a masterpiece photograph.
The rest, seems to be too familiar with a very well done family album about the joy of having a kid. Not much more.
I do see the emotions of being a father, even if I am not one yet, and I do see a delicate beauty throughout, but I think that this could be done over and over again by anyone who experiences fatherhood and is a good photographer. You are indeed a very good photographer but for this reason I think you should push yourself more to make a real difference, to tell something that it hasn’t be heard before.
Your last photograph it’s for me the beginning of your real story.
Ok, so shooting from the hip here having just viewed and read the text
As to the presentation, I like the images (mostly), like the treatment of them in terms of the final aesthetic (again mostly). But I struggled big time with finding a purpose throughout the images (viewing first). Could be just me (probably is).
That being said there was something compelling there which I think, was wanting the images to address the question of “why”. I don’t know that they quite addressed it (for me) but after reading the accompanying text; I like the concept and theme of time and its personal impact on a family unit.
A 24 hour period may be too little but I don’t know – rather, I think you could consider it as a personal challenge/working within the deadline/etc.. Life isn’t perfect so any 24 hours won’t be perfect. You won’t be presented with perfect opportunities. All you can do is document and present reality as you find it. Sure, over a week – you will get more; over a month even more and perhaps over a year you could get something perfect – and then, well, maybe not.
Anyhow, enough waffle here from me :)
Congratulations and Well done on your publication here.
My question is why should we be interested in your family happy snaps?
Thank you all for your comments. I welcome the criticism as a chance to further understand my own work. For the sake of conversation I thought I might add a few more thoughts, which may add or possibly detract from the photographs, but my goal with this project was never the images it produced.
This project was an exercise, so it’s appearance here is more than I intended, and open for discussion. With my personal projects I face several recurring challenges: finding a subject I can have access to repeatedly, then finding a new way to present that subject that makes it my own. In this situation the subject was suggested as a way to work within my time constraints not against them. My initial response to the subject was 1) it’s a dull topic, 2) of little interest to anyone else and 3) nobody’s business but my own. I am quite uneasy about presenting a snippet of my life because in some ways I am offering up something to which I have unique ownership. In looking for a new way to create a “family album” I found that on a day that was unremarkable, the forgettable moments in between have some appeal that could only be revealed though photography. By my own standards my only accomplishment here was being able to act as both observer and participant in my own life. But for me that is an important exercise to have worked through.
For those looking for a personal project I offer what I have repeatedly forgotten: it is seldom necessary to look beyond your immediate surroundings for a subject. The challenge is looking at what you already know and seeing it for the first time.
Cheers from New Orleans,
When I was at your stage in life and career, I had a bustling, boisterous family and everynow and then something would happen and I would seriously take a few pictures, but mostly what I did was fill up my end-takes with them. When the time would come for me to develop film, I would shoot whatever frames were left unexposed in the camera on my family and then I would never print them or even look at them again. Now with digital and my kids grown and grandkids here, I shoot my family continually.
Anyway, I both agree and disagree with what was been expressed above. I agree that you have something good going, and some good images. There is something to be said about showing us just one day, but it feels like I have read the opening three or four words to a sentence and then the sentence just dropped. I am not certain why you have limited this essay to one day.
To me, I am always interested in photos taken by anybody about their family and have spent many hours in the field sitting with people going through albums filled with blurry polaroids and snapshots and I always enjoy it. But, of course, those albums are not going to be presented as essays in an award winning publication, so, although personally I see it differently than Imants – I am interested just because you shot the pictures and here they are – but still I give him his larger point even though I, personally, am interested and what I have seen causes me to want to see more.
“although personally I see it differently than Imants “….. differently to what!? Frostfrog I never passed any judgement on the images, all I did was ask a question. The question still stands as a question
i like the idea of an imposed time scale – much like the 48hour film festivals which have sprung up since digital..
24 hours in which to catch all the thrashing hustle n bustle of family life is tough, and while subtle as many of the shots here are i think there is a range of situations which hint at the vibe.. you have a chilled out family :ø).
i like the stroppy madame and bounding dogs..
I recognize that, Imants, and gave that to you. It’s just that to me, it wasn’t a question that I would have come up with.
Imants, re-reading what I wrote here, I can see how my words confused what I meant to say. I think I need some sleep.
To answer Imants’ question, viewing imagery is often as much about understanding the image-maker as it is the image. What the artwork tells me of the artist is of equal importance as subject matter. Asking why we should look at happy family snaps is not far removed from asking about EXIF data – it’s a weak query.
Sweeney put together a document which shows a certain mastery of technique. He is all around the map, shooting near and far, with sharp and unsharp focus, and at different heights and shutter speeds. He also incorporated himself into the essay in an open manner. These photos are far removed from what I consider family album material.
So, here’s my question. Given the exprtise shown in this quickly put together essay, what did Sweeney learn from the workshop? Any insights as to how the essay could have been improved upon?
I agree with Imants
i love photograph n 18. it is great.
Kevin the snapshots of a family especially a child does bring the question about strangers taking photos of your child and placing them on the net. Is that acceptable? Yet you post the photos knowing full well the images that you posted can be used and lifted in all sorts of ways. Is that an issue that you considered considering people are protective with their loved ones?
No Jeff I am not interested in your answer nor your cute lecture on on EXIF
The first thing that came to my mind when looking at these photos were the photos I saw a couple of years ago by Larry Towell where he photographed his family: The world from my front porch – http://www.bulgergallery.com/dynamic/fr_artist.asp?ArtistID=15&Body=The%20World%20from%20My%20Front%20Porch
I think the family is a fantastic subject to photograph, yours or someone else’s, but it also a very difficult one to portray.
I like this series overall, there are some photos that I would have left out (i.e. #12), some that I really like: 5 and 18.
Congratulations for the project and having been able to show it on Burn!
I love seeing what comes out of David’s workshops – and I applaud you for pulling this off with the pressure of expectation/ deadline.
The photo of with and daughter on the couch, with phone and laptop is such a powerful encapsulation of not only the ret of the essay but of the way so many of us live now. I have to wonder how looking back on this image with feel in 15 years time.
KEVIN: Congratulations for being published here on BURN!!!
“I am quite uneasy about presenting a snippet of my life because in some ways I am offering up something to which I have unique ownership.” – Well, I understand – but isn’t it always like that, when you’re working on something that is a minor or in this case major part of your backyard? In fact, isn’t this the way to make it special – by showing something that is at least partially YOU?!
Love #5 – and I’m pretty sure there’s more to come!
All the best!
“it is seldom necessary to look beyond your immediate surroundings for a subject. The challenge is looking at what you already know and seeing it for the first time. ”
I fully agree with you Kevin. However I wonder whether another challenge should be added to the equation. And that is how to make what we are seeing for the first time, meaningful to others.
Do we believe that a revelation to us, reveals something to anybody? And should we really care about it?
I love this essay.
Congratulation for being published here.
All the best!
KFS (my County Cork grandmother would surely have you over for Sunday dinner) you’re on to something here, but it needs much more development, as I’m sure you know deep down inside. And Imants,…please! Your work isn’t all that. Settle down, for heaven’s sake.
Dude, family life is so, so colourful. Where’s the colour? Some nice shots in here but you need more time to round it out. As a work in progress, it’s terrific. But colour would really pick it up a lot. Would love to see this work after a few more years.
Windup, I am not sure what is your problem is but all I did was ask questions so why the attack, so maybe it is you who needs to settle down. maybe you are too akin to your login
Thanks for the peek into your life. Love 14 and 18.
Nice work. It is funny because I just had this exact conversation with Bob on Thursday i.e. shooting one’s family. Why should we care about family happy snaps? For many people the story that Kevin has portrayed is extremely relevant. I am personally interested and fascinated to see how other families cope. Because sometimes that is what you do when you have kids, cope and hope and try make competing priorities work. Well executed happy snaps give us a glimpse into modern American life raising a family. Why should we care about Kevin’s family happy snaps? Why should we care about Larry Towel’s, or Sally Mann’s or DAH’s recent exhibition on the American Family? Again I think David’s purposeful publication here may have been lost on some. I think the most difficult thing you can do as a photographer is photograph what is right in front of you. Can you see with fresh eyes that which is front of you everyday? Can you find the joy, pain, irony, laughter, and beauty in your life. Is that not worth photographing and sharing with others?
Congrats Kevin. Keep shooting your family, you never know what what gems you may see.
All the best,
Ah I see another person doesn’t realise I directed the question to Kevin the person who put the essay together,my question was about these images not someone elses
Kevin, it’s great that you got published here. It’s a shame it had to come right
after such a powerful piece by Dmytry. Perhaps as this story grows it will
“come together”. Best of luck.
Another fresh look this morning. Every time through, I’m liking this more. This is a powerful set of photographs. It is a snippet from a lifetime project to be sure, but complete and revealing on its own.
Frank, thank-you for your comments, I couldn’t agree more. This kind of work is very dear to my heart. What a treasure photographs like these are.
Imants, by asking why “we” should care, you are including the rest of us, which invites a response. It is a good question, one that could be directed at pretty much anything presented here on Burn. Calling the work “happy snaps” certainly implies a judgement.
Personally, I don’t see a single image which I would classify as a “happy snap”. Not that I think there is anything wrong with a happy snap. Most of Kevins work here is much more about the daily struggle than the “happy” moments. Much of my own personal photography would probably fall into the happy snap category. My own happy snaps, and wonderful photographs such as Kevins here, and those on Frostfrogs wonderful blog, tell me much more about myself, and the human condition than most “serious” photography.
Sorry I have had little time to address some of your questions. I took my daughter to the New Orleans Jazz Festival this past weekend and have had little time to respond.
My daughter is a “why?” child. Most of her questions are easy to answer but often she has a stumper that really makes me think. I never really thought about why anybody should be interested in my family snapshots, and when presented with the question have a hard time answering it. My initial response to Imants’ question is that I’m not sure anyone should be interested unless it somehow builds some kind of emotional connection to his or her own family life or even parenthood. Perhaps a little more back-story or some captions would help, but then again nobody had asked yet.
“Why” was not a question I asked myself while taking these photographs. In fact I never asked, “why should I take this photograph?” I just did, hoping the results would reveal something. The question that formed this essay is more accurately, “what does my family life look like and what is my role in it?
Being a parent is a juggling act that tries to live up to some ideal formed by that most basic group photograph of the happy family at some holiday. This essay is more a result of editing out the cute or the posed images and examining what was left or unexpected. I titled the essay after what I found as the current guiding force of my family: the pull between the group and the self. This is most evident in my daughter’s emotions as she quickly changes from wanting absolute independence to support and comfort.
With regards to posting pictures of my family and myself on the internet, it is of great concern to me and played a major role in the editing. I often have to ask for privacy in my own home so it had occurred to me not to show these pictures to the world.
As far as color photography is concerned, I have a moderate red-green color blindness so cannot make an accurate assessment of my color surroundings. You would see images as my camera saw it but not as I see it. My daughter’s room is painted light purple and I don’t mind it because I think it’s just off-white.
Thanks again for your comments.
Gordon the question was still one foe Kevin to answer and “happy snaps” is your prejudice
Thanks Kevin family always seem to place one between a rock and a hard place in editing as the photographer is not the sole editor. The subjects have a great say as their desires, the way they “want to look” and of course you have to live with them and the decision one makes good and bad.Then there is that lovable rouge the internet.
“This essay is more a result of editing out the cute or the posed images and examining what was left or unexpected.” That is a interesting track to follow and one way of going about is with a acquaintance or friend where they do a similar project and you edit each others essays. In a way both of you end up with three versions,your own,the other persons and the your re edit after viewing the first two. The results are surprising and so is the re shoot and or a combined shoot.
Sorry about cutting the other so called answers off but I was interested in what you had to say
Very interesting idea.
Thanks for the reminder.
interesting that the edit with family work is so much more complicated..
beate and i talked recently about this.. now.. the situation we have is that a camera is always – has always – been on the metaphorical and literal coffee table, ready to go.
there are two within arms reach right now and what this has initiated is quite a free approach to taking pictures. beate has picked it up as well..
it is all there – everything that happens in our lives is photographed to some degree or another and with total consent.. most recently we chatted about some of the more blunt photographs which no doubt have the greatest impact and neither of us has a problem with the realities being recorded.
showing the work would be something quite different.. for the web i would imagine an edit to be rather tame by comparison to a gallery show or even a book.. with tor capa and extended family to think of. neither beate nor i would care what is seen of ourselves, it is only with thoughts of them that we would think carefully about a show on the web. the recognition that tor capa is a person who will grow into a perception and that his grandparents come from another time.. and are web savvy :ø)
I like it. The switch between picture 6 and 7! Good stuff.
Imants- If we are to understand the world, then we can’t form a complete picture of it with just pictures of the down and out, the beaten, the war-torn– we need to see the complexity that comes from hearing many voices. Why look at these pictures? Because they were well-shot, selected and sequenced, and even if it’s not something you want to hear, you learn from it all the same.
I just revisited this after reading DAH’s comments about it to Michael on “Closing time.”
And, wow! It was like I saw it for the first time. With just the little bit of expanded context that those few words gave it, the pictures and the meaning behind them all fell suddenly and powerfully into place.
Very weak essay in my opinion. Looks like done very quick just in a few days. I miss visual compelling content and emotion which lets me remember at least one,two pictures after watching the essay.
Kevin, enjoyed this little peek into your life. Initially I too was curious about the lack of colour but when viewing it a second time around, I found that it wasn’t really an issue at all!
Was this a self-edit or was there input from others?
I am torn. I feel like it’s a work-in-progress. I really love some of the images (yessss, #18), but I was left with a feeling of detachment after viewing this. I was hoping to learn something more about this family, or the way that Kevin feels about them. Maybe this is just because I shoot from such an emotional place, and I was expecting to witness more of the emotional connection. But, great start.
I really feel you have offered an intimate peak into your life and the struggles that are inherent in being someone’s parent.
Matt in the case of this essay I really don’t care what you have to say as I was asking for the photographers response to my questions. If you want to discuss what you wrote I am quite happy to do it on some other post you start
Conceptually I think it has legs and some of the images (#14, 18) work well as fragments of a whole. I agree that a project like this requires considerable subtlety and depth and therefore probably an awfully long time for most mortals, a lot of images, and then some careful editing. I enjoyed it and I also enjoyed the idea of being taken into someone else’s ‘ordinary’ but presented with the immediacy of one’s own.
BTW I am new here. Been lurking for a couple of weeks. Fantastic site – thanks for the link Noah!!
Congrats Kevin on getting published on BURN! I do love 17 & 18 and look forward to further development of your family project. We missed you at our exhibit! :) –Linda O.
I don’t really see a happy family here. In fact, I see quite the contrary. There is a mood of discontent with family life. Gone are the happy images, with the exception of lil one holding daddy’s leg (#7).
Congrats Kevin on getting published on burn! Can’t wait to see how this essay evolves, as well as, your 16 Sunday’s.
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