Fine Art Photography Daily

Marisa Chafetz: We are Ugly but We Have the Music


©Marisa Chafetz, Sunday (Millford Drive), 2016

The narrative implications of photographing one’s family can result in some truly telling work. Take for instance Marisa Chafetz’s story, an upbringing that was surely uncommon and deeply defining in her own right.  As she photographs these intimate moments it is hard to see that this may be a family on the verge of falling apart, but it is exactly this premise that has brought Chafetz to reflect on how they can continue moving forward.  We are Ugly but We Have the Music is filled with characterization and touching vignettes that develop a new standard for understanding family dynamics, love, and growth through times that are not as they once were. 

Marisa Chafetz is a New Orleans/New York based artist who works primarily in photography. She received her BFA in photography from Tulane University in 2017. Her work explores the blurred lines between fictional tableaus and traditional documentary photography. She often deals with topics such as family life, American suburbia, and coming of age. Her most recent bodies of work are intensely personal explorations of her own family and upbringing.

parker n shyla under table

©Marisa Chafetz, Parker, Nina, and Shyla Under the Table (Valley Road), 2016

We are Ugly but We Have the Music

I had an idyllic upbringing, I grew up in a commune of sorts, with three moms and three dads, and seven brothers and sisters. Our story is serendipitous, unlikely, and beautiful. I relive my memories like reading a novel, as if our past might still be taking place in the present in some alternate universe. In recent years, our family has fallen apart in monumental ways. We mourned losses one after another, as if the tragic momentum was unstoppable. I grew up knowing that falling backwards would mean two dozen hands, outstretched to catch me, and suddenly falling means descending into cold, empty air.

This work is my attempt to understand what is left. My childhood meant knowing, it meant being sure. Now, right in the thick of it, I’m still staring out at what feels like a sea of uncertainty and change. If my childhood was easy to know, a series of stories so magnificent, they sound like fiction- how can I understand my family’s present: often full of heartache, loneliness, and banality? What is the reality of what we are now, after our fall from grace?

bridge night

©Marisa Chafetz, Bayville Bridge (Night), 2017

nina limo

Nina going to her Sweet Sixteen (Millford Drive), 2016

parker nina lipstick

Nina doing Parker’s Makeup (Valley Road), 2016

mom saging

Mom Saging the New House (Valley Road), 2017

parker and mom high st

Parker and Mom Out Front (High Street), 2016

sarah pool

Sarah in the Pool (Millford Drive), 2016

parker rainbow

Parker on the Roof (High Street), 2016

sarah bday cake

Sarah and the Birthday Cake (High Street), 2016

parker and nina car hug

Parker and Nina Embrace on the Car (Bayville Beach), 2016

parker mom palm

Mom Reading Parker’s Palm (Waittsfield), 2016

mom and moon

Mom and the Moon (Waittsfield), 2016


Nana at Home (Long Beach), 2017

ludlow ladies

Scratch Tickets (Ludlow), 2016

parker on hill

Parker on the Hill (Waittsfield), 2016

parker mom snow

Parker, Mom and Shyla in the Snow (Valley Road), 2017

parker and nina roller rink

Parker and Nina at the Roller Rink, 2016

bridge snow

Bayville Bridge (Snow), 2017

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