ABOUT You Are Invited Into Our Extra-Ordinary Lives

“What does it take to be a great photographer?”   Without missing a beat, Bruce Davidson replied, “You’ve got to be quiet, patient and fierce.”

We were at a small gathering at Bryce Wolkowitz’s gallery to celebrate this icon of American photography.  I loved Davidson’s response—that’s me! I thought, remembering the boldness it took to make my first photography series, Lifted Up In New York City, slipping through pews and crowds to capture deeply personal images of people worshipping at churches and street ministries.  Then I paused:

“Do you get releases from your subjects?” I asked.

Davidson responded with a twinkle in his eye:  “That isn’t practical.”

Oh, no—that is not me. I remembered the two years I had spent trying to locate the people in my worship pictures.  Like a private investigator, I retraced my steps, hoping church secretaries or the Sunday regulars would recognize the faces in my images and give me phone numbers or emails.  But it wasn’t just the permission I was after—I wanted to know these people, to have them explain what I had captured.  My search became an obsession and it opened a new world.  I found most of my subjects and many were there at the opening of the first exhibit. They all have copies of their images. Many are now my friends.

Bruce Davidson forced me to be honest with myself. He talked about an almost spiritual attachment to his subjects. I got that.  And yet, I realized my approach needed to be different.  I didn’t want to document; I wanted a relationship. And that’s where this project, You Are Invited Into Our Extra-Ordinary Lives, began.

The subjects in this series are both people I’ve known all my life and people I’ve met recently.  They are each someone I want to know better.  We collaborate through an elaborate and deeply personal process I call photo improv to find a visual metaphor for the dynamics in an essential relationship in their lives. We start with many conversations.  We talk, trade stories, pull out old snapshots, explore the spaces they inhabit, ask a lot of questions until the picture we are going to make becomes clear. Then my collaborators become actors acting out their own lives and I pick up my camera and play director.  We are aware that their story is being told through my lens—and in the process it will become a bigger story that reveals not only their personal experiences but experiences familiar to me and perhaps to others.

What we have at the end is a montage of our moments together.  Unlike the documentary photographs that first inspired me, these images are not an attempt to document reality—and while the process requires much patience, it is neither quiet nor fierce.  Instead, the images are a deliberate, collaborative, intense exploration of our intersecting lives and familiar relationships.  A visual tribute to the ordinary and extraordinary experiences that occur between husband and wife, parent and child, co-workers, lovers, siblings, friends and strangers.

With special thanks to Maria Matthew (Editing), Kylie Wright (Post-Production and Printing) and Sammy Collinge (Lighting)

Lanie McNulty, 2014

You Are Invited into Our Extra-ordinary Lives