Gwen Coyne

The Early Years

I have photographed memoirs from my daughter’s childhood for nearly six years. I’m more interested in collecting snippets evocative of her, rather than documenting specifics. My daughter has asthma and I never know when a mild cold will turn into an emergency. Naturally, I’ve developed a pervasive concern for her health. I want to create images that help remind us of the space and time in between the intensity. Most of the images I have from my own childhood are in my memories. Maybe this also influenced my approach to photographing her—a desire to evoke a fantastical sense of childhood. I have shot and edited this series exclusively on my iPhone. The phone is convenient and allows for a less invasive, more immediate response to what’s going on around me. I also see shooting on mobile as being part of something bigger. Mobile photography has reshaped what information is readily accessible, thereby more profoundly impacting how people perceive the world. In sharing glimpses of this tiny person’s life, I feel that I’m contributing to a broader, collective story. I hope that over time this series of short stories will form a more comprehensive portrait of her early years, leaving room for her imagination and memory to fill in the gaps.




Gwen Coyne is a graphic designer by profession and manages a digital marketing team in San Francisco, California. She studied painting and psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, but after graduation found herself drawn mostly to photography. Before beginning her design and marketing career, she worked as a counselor for severely emotionally disturbed children, conducting art workshops. In her spare time, she enjoys chronicling time spent with her six-year-old daughter and capturing sights from her cell.

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Gwen Coyne

26 thoughts on “Gwen Coyne – The Early Years”

  1. Having faced a few of those emergencies with my oldest daughter as she grew I can emphasize with you. If it is of any encouragement, I would note that she is in her 30’s now and while I would not dare say it has gone away, the problem seems much diminished now.

    Lovely pictures.

    Absolutely lovely.

    Treasured times.

  2. Skiwaves: So glad; thanks very much for looking.

    Frostfog: Thank you so much for your kind comment. I hope the same holds true!

    Imants: Thanks for your observation. Yes, I need more color. But generally speaking, I don’t love how the iPhone handles color. It only seems to emphasize the lack of quality. Or are you referring to post processing in a broader sense?

    Also, I am curious: would you have the same response to a body of work presented entirely in color, as opposed to black and white?

  3. Gwen, I followed this work on burn diary and absolutely loved it. While I don’t have children, I once was a child….and this essay recalls the magic of discovery. Lovely. Soulful.

  4. Gwen – certainly this is “one lens, one camera” — and the results of individual pictures are often great, and the idea and sensibility of these shots is valuable and important. But I had the same thought as Imants, that you need more variety in the processing, at least to match the variety of light in which you’ve shot these.

    I often have the same dilemma of applying a processing look that I’ve come to like. Seems to me that this comes from the malleability of good digital files. A few weeks ago I shot film (Tri-X) for the first time in 10 years — and that made me think of this issue of the “same-same” look. I am not, and don’t intend to be, a “film bore,” but shooting film at least occasionally, can help to bring one back to a more quality of light-oriented approach, if you know what I mean.

  5. Yes it is easy to get seduced by a look, a subject, a thought……. eventually one figures out that it is time to move on

  6. Imants, yes! My question being: how do you avoid the effect of “same same” in a color-only series? It is theoretically a similar dilemma, aside from adding an extra dimension. Or do you feel that color differentiates a series more than content does? Or are you recommending I simply vary the post processing dependent on the scene, as Mitch is implying?

    Mitch: Thanks for your feedback! Fundamentally, the iPhone affords me the convenience and flexibility to continue to dabble in photography, alongside my responsibilities and priorities as a mother and full-time-plus member of the workforce. I think this holds true for many, which is why I find it to be such a fascinating cultural movement. Basically, we are hearing from a multitude of people who would otherwise not have the time to tell their stories. Whereas I definitely know what you mean about film, I’ve been there/done that and currently it’s not realistic, given my responsibilities and the time it necessitates. That said, I’ve been eyeing the Fuji X70! :)

    Virgil: Thank you so much.

  7. Yea treat every image in its own right, it may be an emphasis on emotion, abstract idea, content, colour tone etc.

    It is not a matter of just using colour, we are a pretty multi media savvy lot theses days and can jump from b&w, to text to colour to drawing, video, to the spoken word …… within one presentation whether it be digital on a screen, in an office, a classroom, a book or at the local cafe etc

    The good thing about smartphone apps is that they are made for all they are storytellers, quirky,serious, playful, informative.\, useless, odd, great all rolled into one

    Just do stuff and present ………..audience takes of the rset

  8. I like the look and the fact that it is consistent throughout. Sometimes it may be best to treat each image in its own right; other times it may be best to treat each image as part of an overriding story. No right or wrong, in general. I think you made a nice choice in the way you processed this series of photographs, in particular.

  9. Imants: Thank you, Imants. All makes good sense. I appreciate the conversation.

    mw: Thanks. It’s interesting, as I remember a painting professor back in college had advised me to create a “body of work” for my senior show. At the time, I thought: how boring. I don’t want everything to look the same. So I did what I wanted to, and wasn’t too worried about consistency. After I hung the show, I realized there was nothing that held the differences together. It didn’t work. It affected me a lot in my work as a designer, and in my understanding of a brand. But I also agree with Imants, in that there is a point in which you need to experiment. And the results of that experimentation must then be thoughtfully curated.

  10. I like everything about this. The important thing now is to get them printed write on the back of them and put them in a shoe box under the bed. I actually like the fact that they all look the same put I would also like them if they all looked different, you have a good eye.

  11. hharry: Thanks for your kind comment and also for the reminder to print, which I so rarely do these days!

    Akaky: It made me smile, thank you.

    Thank you all for the great feedback; very much appreciated!

  12. Gwen…
    Very, very nice work. I’ve been following you on Instagram since David Alan Harvey pointed your work out to me whilst you were on your tour of duty on BurnDiary. That week was brilliant and a real eye opener.
    Now I don’t agree at all with the critism on the look of your images. The look is consistent, holds it tight and doesn’t in anyway subtract from the content of each image. It’s damn hard to shoot the mundane, daily life is plagued by little eye-saws which can ruin a moment of magic. So your BW seems to pull us away from the usual and your process accentuates the littles instances of magic and mutes the ugly. So as far as I’m concerned keep on and be you.

    Cheers Paul

  13. Really nice work. I don’t what it is about children, but they have a knack for looking so much more natural in front of a camera than adults. I occasionally photograph kids and that is what I have found out. Really like how play with a light and shadows.

  14. My earlier comment preceded the criticism on the look of your images referenced by Paul. I agree with Paul completely.

    The look of your images is wonderful.

  15. Paul, Frostfrog: Warmest thanks. I don’t mind the dialog about the look; I welcome all feedback. It’s helpful in different ways.

    Tarekshaynetabet Thank you! It’s true; I already notice that as she gets older she is more conscious of the camera. I wonder where that will take us; could be interesting.

  16. My apologies, Gwen, but I occasionally feel the need to do this sort of thing.

    And then Eliza Doolittle says,

    The[1] rain[2] in[3] Spain[4] stays[5] mainly[6] in[7] the[8] plain.[9]

    [1]English’s definite article, the word that says that the word after it is the one you are talking about and not some other word that may or may not mean the same thing. The is in direct contrast with a or an, which are English’s indefinite articles, which do not describe specific things but rather members of a class of the same thing. For example, the rock refers to a specific rock that I may or may not throw at your front window as the fancy strikes me, and if the fancy does strikes me you can bet your bottom dollar that I will throw the rock—I am no turn the other cheek advocate, not by a long shot, guys, and if you think you can chuck a fancy at me without me chucking something right back at you then you are seriously deluding yourself. On the other hand, a rock refers to any rock that I may have at hand to accomplish this purpose. An is a’s little brother and is used in front of words that begin with a vowel. English objects to the idea of naked vowels at the beginning of a word for some reason and so insists that a consonant precedes them. This sort of Victorian prudery went out the door during the 1960’s, of course, and normal people don’t insist on this sort of rubbish anymore, but the grammar police still demand that words beginning in a vowel have a consonant chaperone, lest the neighbors start talking and give the word a bad reputation. All words would like to have a good reputation, except for the swear words, for obvious reasons, and ain’t, which has been disreputable for so long that it has a hard time imagining itself as a reputable member of lexicographical society. It keeps on trying, God love it, and who knows, maybe someday ain’t will be respectable. As Noah Cross says in Roman Polanski’s film, Chinatown, ‘politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.’ The same process might occur for ain’t; we can only hope. Ain’t deserves some respect, I think, if only for hanging on for so long against the power of the grammar Nazis.
    So to reiterate, the is the definite English article and a or an is the indefinite English article. Some languages, like Russian and Chinese, do not have articles at all and do not seem to care, whereas other languages, like French or German, can have three or more. This seems to be a matter of linguistic taste, along with anchovies on pizza or mayonnaise on French fries, both habits that are more than a little nauseating and which good parents should endeavor to discourage in their children.

    [2] A natural phenomenon best known for its ability to ruin parades. I am not sure why rain hates parades so much; the frequency with which rain will go out of its way to ruin a parade suggests that the animosity is personal, which in turn suggests that this is some kind of childhood trauma or perhaps the result of a love affair gone horribly wrong, but science does know that parades invite rain the way a white shirt invites spatters of spaghetti sauce. Given these facts, one should always go to a parade with an umbrella and galoshes. Rain that does not fall on a parade or anywhere else is called virga. This really doesn’t have anything to do with anything we are discussing here, but it is the sort of meteorological fun fact that you can impress your friends with at the Fourth of July parade and fireworks show while you are waiting for the rain to end.

    [3] An uninteresting word, well-known for its Bolshevistic tendencies. In its youth, in was a Trotskyite with Bukharinist overtones, but after the Moscow show trials began in began its full-throated support of Stalinism and demanded that the security organs destroy all kulaks, class enemies, and wreckers. A lot of this went on in those days and the people who had been Stalinists all along could not help but notice that in was a little late to the game. In noticed that the Stalinists noticed and, being a highly intelligent article as articles go, decided to get himself out of the worker’s paradise before the inevitable meeting with Vasili Blokhin occurred. So in the summer of 1937, in had himself smuggled out of the Soviet Union disguised as a bottle of cheap vodka. After the tumult of the October Revolution and the Civil War and all the other crises that made early 20th century Russia a bad place to sell life insurance, in decided that he wanted a quiet, well-ordered existence where he would be safe from the Chekhists. He found this existence inside the Oxford English Dictionary, where in resides to this day. He is very old now, of course, but he is very happy that he outlived all the other Old Bolsheviks and everyone who remembered the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series (for those of you interested in such things, the Cubs last won the Series in 1908).

    [4] A place. It rains there, or so I’ve heard.

    [5] What you can count on relatives to do whether you want them to or not. Free room and board will attract lots of people that you only want to see on the Christmas holidays, and not even then, to be perfectly honest. They are very nice people in their native habitat, wherever that may be, and you wish they would go back there as quickly as possible. In the meantime, they are eating you out of house and home, and expect you to do their laundry and drive them to the mall whenever the urge to commit commerce strikes them. I understand that family feeling should count for something in this day and age, but frankly, I don’t remember when I started to think that opening a not for profit hotel was a good idea and I wish to get out of the business as soon as possible.

    [6] An adverb, which is just a verb without full time employment. Please don’t start on me; I know that the economy is hurting and that the competition for full-time employment is intense. No one wants to hire English verbs anymore, not when they can get a Mexican verb to do the same job for less than minimum wage, but most adverbs are just not trying hard enough. If they had stayed in school like their parents told them instead of hanging out in the boy’s bathroom smoking marijuana and listening to that damn heavy metal music, they’d all have good paying jobs now instead of living in their parents’ basement playing video games to all hours of the night. Am I right or what? Adverbs today are just a generation of slackers that just don’t want to grow up. Annoying, and probably not politically correct to say so, but true is still true whether you like it or not.

    [7] Cf. Note 3. Not going there again, folks. Been there, done that, got the revolutionary t-shirt to prove it.

    [8] Cf. Note 1. Ditto.

    [9] Yogurt without the stale fruit on the bottom. I am not sure why anyone eats yogurt in the first place. Eating something with the look and consistency of snot seems to be a complete repudiation of what our mothers told us not to do in kindergarten, but I seem to be alone in this opinion. Every year dairy farmers turn millions of gallons of milk into yogurt and someone must eat the stuff because it disappears off the store shelves with great regularity. I can’t explain why anyone would want to eat yogurt, in much the same way I can’t explain why anyone would think voting for a Democrat is a good idea, but someone must want to; they keep turning up on the ballot like termites in an old house. It’s just another of life’s little mysteries, I suppose.

  17. “He found this existence inside the Oxford English Dictionary, where in resides to this day”…….wow he must be glad that Alexander Litvinenko is from Wikipedia

  18. I liked it a lot, Gwen. Editing a personal project can be hard (which are the good pictures, and which are just good to me) or easy (on the other hand, what’s wrong with choosing subjectively). I love projects that come from somewhere deeply personal though.

    I like the consistency of the processing, but thought at times it looked as though it was suffocating the picture and that maybe a lighter treatment would let a little breath into the wonder and whimsy of the subject.

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