A photographic love letter to complicated sisterly relationships

London photographer Francesca Allen documents her younger sister and a dynamic in flux with her new book, ‘I’d like to get to know you’.

by Frankie Dunn
01 April 2022, 7:00am

The relationship between siblings is often a difficult one – famously so when it comes to sisters. It’s something that rings true to photographer Francesca Allen and her younger sister Alida, who were never particularly close growing up. With seven years between them, they seemed to be forever in different life stages and the supposed inbuilt friendship never came naturally. Now that they are both in their 20s, and two very different people with different life experiences, Francesca has become increasingly eager to reconnect. They did so via a camera lens.

Taken over the course of a summer spent at their family home in rural Devon, I’d like to get to know you is Francesca’s second monograph. As the title suggests, the photo book documents Alida, exploring the many facets of her personality and reimagining the duo’s long-established dynamic. We join the sisters as they frolic in the fields at golden hour, bathe in a nearby river and ride horses in bathing suits. Francesca might be behind the camera, but we feel her presence. We see it too, in a black-and-white shot of her standing over Alida in a bathtub, her feet just in the frame as she balances on the rim.

Although Alida is technically the first person Francesca ever photographed, this project marked something more significant for both of them. “When we were younger the photos were quite… experimental,” she says. “The first photos of Alida that feel true to my work were taken around 2015. We did a really lovely series for i-D around then too. One of the images in the book is an exact recreation of the photo that went to print — same location and time of day but six years later.” 

Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida standing in her underwear

Did you and Alida grow up in Devon? Is it your childhood home in the photographs?

I wish it was – I’m so jealous that Alida grew up there. It was my dream to live somewhere like that, surrounded by animals. Alida isn’t very outdoorsy, so it was a bit wasted on her. My family moved there about 10 years ago, just after I left home. 

What would you say are the similarities and differences between the two of you? 

We are both very sensitive and play our cards close. I think we are both empathetic and in tune with other people’s emotions. We have differing communication styles though. This sounds quite ‘therapy’… Alida says I am more grown up than her; I would hope so. 

Was there intention behind the project or did it simply happen?

I’ve always wanted to make a book with Alida, I just wasn’t sure when. She is quite possibly my favourite person to photograph. If I’m feeling in a rut, I think we can always circle back to each other; they are always my favourite photos. We collaborated with stylist Claire Lemaigre who brought an important vision to the project. We mixed our existing wardrobes with pieces from Claire and designer Eliza Collin to create styling that felt, and was, very real. This created a really lovely cohesion and flow to the project.

Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida, lying down in the garden

How did your relationship evolve over the course of the summer? 

I always find photographing someone quite intense, and I think our relationship mirrored that. It definitely ebbed and flowed over time.

Did using your family home as a setting for this project also lead you to see the space differently? 

It’s funny because the house doesn’t feature that much in the images, but it was very much the setting for the project. The majority of the interior images are set in my bedroom, against a white wall. The rest of the house is so busy; there’s a whole family, dogs, chickens, ducks, cats. It’s quite chaotic. You don’t see that from the photos. 

Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida standing in a field of flowers in a green swimming costume

Is there a photograph that you feel best represents your relationship?

Maybe the last image in the book - I’m standing above her in the bath. You can see my toes; a little bit of me, a little bit of Alida. It’s sort of a pretend documentary photo – everything in it is real, but perhaps we wouldn’t be in this scenario if the camera wasn’t there too. 

Finally, what would you say is the essence of I’d Like To Get To Know You?

I think it’s up for interpretation, I’ve left it quite open-ended. You can take it at face value or choose to look further into the images. It’s a love letter to all the complicated sister relationships. 

Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida, laughing on a white horse
Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida standing in a field of flowers topless
Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida, reclining peacefully in a river
Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida standing by a tree in a bikini top
Francesca Allen portrait of her sister, Alida, hanging out a bedroom window in golden hour

Francesca’s book ‘I’d like to get to know you’ is out now and available here. The accompanying exhibition runs until 24 April at 10 14 Gallery, London.


Photography Francesca Allen
Styling Claire Lemaigre

photo books