It’s not easy being a participant observer of a family in crisis. Amber Sowards has the ability to look at a situation, while painfully personal and emotionally charged, and capture it with compassion and objectivity. And that bravery has resulted in recent successes. Amber was selected to attend Review Santa Fe with work from her project, Private Property, and has a number of exhibitions this year.
Born in Dundalk, Maryland, Amber recieved her MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She now resides in Madison, Wisconsin and is starting a project that examines the city of Madison’s desire to be a green and organic community, which includes the adoption of new laws that allow community members to house chickens within the city limits; access to fresh eggs; and the government enforcing the right to ban raw milk sales. As Amber states, Moving from Baltimore to Madison has been a complete culture shock, partially because of the greater community’s philosophy on the environment, their level of education, and their white liberalism. I believe in doing work that reflects issues by which I am surrounded because it is what makes me truly involved, committed and open to the experience of photographing.
From June 2008 to April 2009 I documented my mother, father, sister and five year old niece, who all reside in a one-bed room apartment in Baltimore Maryland. I have been numb to my families’ lifestyle, accustomed to their downward spiral of addiction, poverty, unemployment, imprisonment and depression. I longed to see their humanity.
Images from Private Property
The camera allowed me the safety of distance to look into the eyes of each family member and have a moment, a connection. I finally felt and saw the power of subjectivity. In the end I understood a mother’s strength, a father’s regret, a sister’s beauty and a little girls’ fearlessness. All together it added up to a families’ will to survive.
In this work I use color and environment to connect the individual members in my family. Their alcoholism, depression and routine of living day to day with no real plans of the future, leaves them little time for healthy communication. I am searching for moments where visual evidence of communication and emotional awareness fill in a missing link, exposed when two photographs fall in a sequence that bring new insights to light.
This work was never about poverty or substance abuse. Through their portraits, I was able to witness their complexity and internal struggles. I witnessed moments of compassion and vulnerability, which are in a constant state of motion and always shifting with their self destruction and disassociation. But the idea of family and my family specifically, is permanent.
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