The Story Behind the Portrait
This diptych portrait of my mother Mary and her twin sister Marion belongs to a body of work Passing Place that I worked on between 2001-2016. The project is an intimate portrait of my mother and a tribute to the ex-mining village where I grew up in the West of Scotland. It examines physical distance and family ties that exist over the miles and the longing for bonds that are challenged due to emigrating. The project unites my portraiture, landscapes, family photography and ephemera to distill lost family time and memory.
Emigrating from Scotland to America barely out of my teens, I left with a box of family photographs and ephemera including this primary school photo of my mother Mary and her twin sister Marion, which is my favourite. Each time I went home I’d go through old photos with Mum to bring back as physical memories of my childhood and proof to myself of where I was from. Mum had boxes of them and kept a lot of memorabilia and newspaper clippings etc. Maybe that’s where I get my hoarding from! Every time I went home I’d make new portraits of her, usually once a year up until she passed in 2016.
I’ve always been drawn to family photos, history and storytelling. This gave me the idea during the project to have a crack at making a similar portrait of the twins’ 1946 primary school photo for their 70th birthday in 2011. I thought it would make a great present and tribute to their lives together as twins and next door neighbors.
Making the photo was a wee bit challenging as Mum’s nerves weren’t so good after years of cancer treatment and had an early onset of Parkinson’s Disease, so she couldn’t stand for long and would shake after a minute or two. I stood them both in Mum’s back garden using the old photo as reference as to positioning them, managing to fire off a couple of plates before mum got too tired. The view camera was probably not the quickest camera to make this and bless her for standing long enough to make this.
There is so much history and nostalgia in both of these photos for me. I love the innocence of the old photo and the cheeky faces of mum and aunt Marion in their wooly jumpers and tartan skirts. I love the similar gestures between the original and the redux. These twins have been inseparable since birth, growing up and living in the same towns. Mum even moved next door to my aunt so that she could take care of her in the last decade of her life.
My Aunt asked for a reprint this recently as she lost her other copy. She really cherishes the memory of that day and her twin sister. As for Mum, she didn’t like it as much, saying that she looked ‘funny’, since she had lost a lot of weight due to illness. Her health steadily declined thereafter we made this but her big smile lives on through this photo and its all the memory I’ve got.
*This photo is touring Scotland and India in 2018 as part of the Fòcas Document exhibition.
Sandy Carson is a Scottish photographer who emigrated to the United States in 1993. His photography explores sensitive cultural issues of American consumerism and the social landscape with a scrutiny particular to one who was born and raised in another country. Constantly at play in his photographs is an irony born from the juxtaposition of disparate elements, a duality that consistently informs his viewpoint and is an intrinsic element of his work.
Sandy has exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally, including Houston Center For Photography, Lawndale Arts Center, Houston, The University of Texas, Trinity University in San Antonio, Finch & Ada Gallery, New York, Musée de l’Elysée, Switzerland, and Street-Level Photoworks, Glasgow. A monograph of his work on the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, Paradise Has Relocated was published in 2010. His second book published by Daylight-We Were There is a symbiotic study of a decade documenting concert fandom as shot from the pit.
His commercial editorial work has been published in The New York Times, Aperture, American Photography, The Guardian, The Huffington Post and Rolling Stone amongst others. His commercial clients include Virgin, Nike, Red Bull, Remington, ESPN, NPR, The BBC, Disney and Atlantic Records. He currently lives and works in Austin, Texas and is represented by INSTITUTE.