‘Chaneen, Jasmine and Ocean’ – Sophie Harris Taylor – London

“I went to photograph Chaneen and her two children as part of a series about breastfeed. After we finished shooting we ended up spending a bit more time together. there was something so beautiful about seeing the interaction between Chaneen and her two children – the purity of their children was captivating.”

I selected this image purely on my reaction to what is presented in this photograph. whilst I do believe that image would have benefitted from a slightly wider, allowing more room on the right for the subject to have more space and feel less squeezed in, I also enjoy how relaxed the composition is. This informality adds to the feeling of being part of what we see and that what we see is not performative. The natural messiness of the posing and background coupled with the unprompted smiling is relatable and infectious. We can recognise the nervous curiosity in the face we connect with, that of the smallest child looking directly at us, but also we can see this is not from a place of fear.

The caption informs us of names, highlighting the mother’s name but failing to identify which child is Jasmine or Ocean. Convention implies that left to right reading of name to image but this oversight undermines the connection the photograph seeks as it introduces a reason to distance or be unsure of identity. This is also compounded by the lack of any real insight to the writing instead just a proclamation by the photographer of the “purity of their relationship”. Personally I look for some narrative to base my interpretation up, being straight told how to feel seems more like an attempt to mask the photographers lack of consent in sharing or true knowledge of their subject.

One point we can draw on though is how we see the subjects based on their appearance. Having lacked the contextualisation this is the only real information we can read to gain insight to the subjects and the purpose of the image.As I see this image I think of the apparent positive bond between mother and children, only apparently as this is a single image and there is no contextualisation.

We know this photograph was taken in London, from the title, but not specifically where so we judge from the image that the chances are that it is somewhere relatively prosperous judging by the minimalistic light coloured walls and bedding which are both clean and well kept, this is also supported by the bright white clothing shared across the family. The children look healthy and happy more inline with how we would perceive a family un-phased by financial issues. In essence I see a family with no indication of living in poverty. Referring back to the clothing for a moment, the use of partial dress is usually an indicator of vulnerability inferring intimacy and honest, here it also alludes to a sense of unity by sharing appliance and also comfort with the photographer and each other.

Overall these details increase the effectiveness of the portrait and what I suppose is it’s purpose.

It is refreshing to see a young black family portrayed in such a positive way, a view which is often missing form mainstream media. The obvious comfort and strong bond between the mother and her children is enamouring, intimate and in small ways subversive. Historic signifiers of discrimination are, intentionally or not, present but here they work to take the positive connotations and apply them to a typically overlooked scene. The bright white purity, the strong family bond, the middle class security and the physical and emotional health of the children are all reappropriated naturally and subtly to attach white western values to the portrait. It is in the challenging of these indicators that the power of the image is found, not in their inclusion but in their actuality, they are powerful because they are real.

Knowing more would not detract form this image, unless more is in direct conflict with what we see, but it would further enhance the experience it shares with us. The potential to further increase commonality between the viewer and subject would give the opportunity to challenge further preconceptions and by identifying the specific individuals with their names and personal information would increase the perceive insight of the photographer and therefore the viewer.

The only real concern about this image is the purpose of creation. I would like to think that the main driver was to discover more about the family, to share the experiences of under represented cultural groups and to elevate the mass media representation of people of colour. However, despite short, the contextualisation focuses on the brief of creating and image for a series on breastfeeding. Thankfully the relatable subject is not one that I imagine causing concern, through the use of the image etc, but it is a reminder that one should consider the images future use and initial conception. As an image for promoting the positive impact of breastfeeding and as an attempt to potential engage a wide range of cultural groups in that promote I feel it would work fantastically. Unfortunately, as with any imagery created to support an agenda, one then must question the validity of the emotion we see. It raises the question of whether the portrait is carefully constructed and with a narrative created to achieve that, is the subject a real mother and children or an actor hired to fill a role? I don’t believe so, the language used in the contextual paragraph suggests otherwise. But, when reading imagery and consuming media, a certain amount of cynicism is always required.

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