Ther photo was easy because it is my niece, who is preparing for her first communion. His normal state was to be very active, never stationary for more than a minute. Left on her own, she would wear a t-shirt and probably out there in the dirt. What I see in this photo is that she has been told to be nice, to stay still and not to ruin her dress.
It was 1987 and the family was living in Stoughton, Massachusetts. It’s a blue collar area, not particularly chic. There were always kids playing outside, which you didn’t see so much in the more prosperous neighborhoods. There was a lot of excitement. First Communion is a very big deal. The reasoning is that the girls become brides of Christ, so their outfits are like a wedding dress, and the boys wear white suits, white shirts, white ties. They are seven years old, considered old enough to have a notion of sin. My niece must be just 40 years old.
Her grandmother, who also lived there, was very pious, as was her uncle – it’s her right fist. My niece has the pictures, however, and she tries not to think about all of the fellowship. To me, she seems like she doesn’t like it at all. She was very lively and she looks a little impatient, a little annoyed – but it’s only one day and she’s going to try to get out of it.
The TV and stereo are really dated to this photo. Another thing about the image – and others of mine – is that there is quite a bit of clutter. I’m sure some people did some tidying up before I got there, but I think they mostly let things slide. I loved it, because it helped tell the story of the people and their lives in this room. And also, I loved it because I grew up in such a different kind of house, where everything had to be put away as soon as you stopped using it. As if you had never even been there, as if all signs of your activities had been erased.
I’m not into celebrity photography at all. I think they are already sufficiently covered. The people I photographed for At Home, my photo book project, are very real. There are stories to be told there. When you photograph a family in their own home, they let their guard down. Once you have that invitation to come in, you don’t have to constantly negotiate whether you can take a photo. You are ready.
I went out looking for people to photograph. I was seeing someone and just felt like I had to ask. Maybe I liked their faces or their interaction with their children. A lot of people refused or looked at me like I was crazy. I wanted to ask more questions so badly, but I couldn’t get on my nerves. If I saw a probable prospect, I would tell my boyfriend to leave, because I thought I would be less threatening on my own. He got used to it.
I never knew what kind of picture I was going to take. I wasn’t advocating anything. I could tell someone he didn’t have to smile, but it was about as blunt as that. I just grab the moments. It was one of six rolls of film that I shot that day, using my Leica range finder. I tended to shoot a lot of movies – mainly because I’m just excited.
Some families that I shot have become my friends. When I injured my back and couldn’t work for a few months, a mother let me know that if I lost my apartment I could stay with them. It knocked me out. Other times people started bickering, or there was clear tension, and I had to cut the session short. I remember one very cold day I had done a workout that just wasn’t happening – even the dog was stiff. I returned to my car to find that the locks and doors were frozen. I had to go back to the family and ask for help.
Photographing people at home is so much different from photographing them outdoors. A house is such a good representation of who someone really is. But I can’t wait to get out of my house now. I get my vaccination next week. There is a big world out there – and it will be great to come back.
CV of Susan Kandel
Neither: Washington, DC, 1949
Qualified: Massachusetts College of Art
The influences: “Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand are at the top of the list. Also my teachers, Tod Papageorge and Nick Nixon.
High point: “Include one of my photographs in the Museum of Modern Art exhibit, Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort.”
Low point: “Leave the lens cap in place while photographing a wedding. Just a roll of film, but that’s enough! “
Superior Council: “Seize every opportunity – and don’t have any preconceived ideas.”