Documenting the American family from the other side

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When Swedish photographer Alice Schoolcraft visited her relatives in America for the first time she encountered a gun-owning American family, who held beliefs, interests and ideas completely contrary to her own but treated her with love and affection. In her cousins, aunts and uncles she began to see herself reflected back, and the University of Westminster graduate imagined an alternative personal narrative: is this what her life would have been like had she grown up in America, not Malmö?
Schoolcraft’s series The Other Side explores this question, pushing the boundaries of familial ties and personal identity while documenting an America we don’t often see on TV. We talked to Schoolcraft about connecting with documenting family, being an outsider and working on Fridays:
What prompted you to explore this ‘unknown path’ of your American family?
Growing up in Sweden, we had a portrait of them in my house so I’ve always known about this side of my family, but I had never met them. I finally met my dad’s cousin Myles very briefly a couple years ago, and I was intrigued about the way he spoke about his dogs, guns and hobbies. Photography gives the viewer a chance to step into another person’s life and experience it, feeling a connection to a stranger that they have never met before.
There’s an interesting tension, in that you’re photographing an ‘othered’ way of life but you have an intimate connection to it. Were you thinking about this during the process?
It was something I was concerned about before visiting them, but I was mostly there to document their lives and not my own. I was just so curious about their values, what they do and how they live that my background and views didn’t matter. I was handed an opportunity, being an outsider culturally while at the same time being an insider biologically. It helped me gain a different perspective, one that was both extremely personal and real while at the same time allowed me to detach myself and focus on the photographs.

From The Other Side © Alice Schoolcraft
Was your American family worried that you might misrepresent them?
I didn’t get the feeling that they really cared that much about the photographs. They were more excited about getting to know me than the work I was doing. After a while the presence of the camera kind of disappeared. I was concerned about misrepresenting them, so I spent a lot of time ensuring that my final edit was true and real; I’m sure they could sense this when they finally got a chance to view the images.
Did you encounter any problems while shooting?
There was a point during the second visit when I was nearing the end of my time with them that I felt a sense of guilt about the context in which the photographs might be seen, hanging on a gallery wall in London. But when I got back and had a chance to go through all the images, I felt their strong sense of pride in how they live and what they enjoy doing. Their everyday life is not my everyday life, and I think that is why the images are so interesting. I think the viewer can sense the love that the family has for each other – even if this might conflict with a European perspective of love because of all the guns and knives.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Work late on Fridays because no one else does.
Alice was a runner-up in the Undergraduate series category at BJP Breakthrough 2016, our annual summer season celebrating student photography. All Breakthrough runners-up receive WeTransfer Plus accounts, complete with long term storage, increased upload sizes and password protected transfers. Find more of her work here.
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