How do you photograph a young woman and a little girl together, when they are not mother and child? A mom with her little girl are easy, because their relationship is interdependent and this is expressed on their portrait together in one way or another. The mom is maternal and caring; the child is, well, projecting an image of a child and depending on her, even when they have fun together.
However, if the young woman and the girl are sisters, for example, it’s wrong to typecast the older sister as the maternal substitute, even if she may be like a mom to her little sister. First, that would be a deceptive image of their relationship, even a stereotypical simplification. Second, that may not give justice to the personality of each of them, as well as the stage at which each of them is. It won’t be a portrait of what they are at that moment of their lives; it would be a stock image of big-sister-little-sister relationship.
I recently had the chance to photograph the two daughters of a friend of mine. The older one is smart, determined yet dreamy and feminine. The younger one is quiet and independent, but their relationship is really close. I didn’t want to pigeonhole this closeness in a trite way. So I took the challenge to find a way for each to express her personality in that particular moment of her life while they are still together in the portrait, in the same setting, and projecting their relationship.
One solution I found is to ask them to look into different direction. That happened naturally, because even when they are close and next to each other, their interest is piqued by different things. The first shot above is successful in how it allows the older one to be feminine with her romantic gaze, while the younger one appears to be curious and active. It is clear that they are close, yet distinct. I just asked them to think about their own dream at that moment.
The second shot shows them doing different things within the same setting while showing their closeness at the same time. The swing set was the perfect place for this, I thought. The little sister would swing and she is barely looking back at the viewer, while the older one uses the triangle shape of the swing set beams to suggest a door she is going through. In fact, she is just graduating from high school and looking forward to college. It is clear that they have a close relationship: it looks as though the little one is asking her big sister to help her swing high. How symbolic!