Liv Liberg photographed her sister for 15 years
Without realising, the Dutch photographer created an archive of what it's like to come of age as sisters – one behind the camera, the other in front.
Dutch photographer Liv Liberg has been shooting her sister Britt regularly over the course of 15 years. What started as a means to pass the time as teenage girls has evolved into an archive that traces their journey from children to adulthood. But Liv, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague, only recently realised how important and formative these photographs are to her practice.
With the support of a Mondriaan Emerging Artists Fund, she revisited her archive and shot new material, bringing together a selection for her first photobook, Sister Sister, out this month. The project, she says, "is something true that I can tell about my life, about Britt and our collaboration".
The book is composed solely of images of Britt, beginning at age six, when Liv was just ten. It’s organised by month — so we see each 15 years of growing up condensed into each four-week period. This has the effect of taking the viewer back to the start of the journey 12 times. "It's a concept with a clear structure, but it's still poetic," Liv says, "as months and seasons have certain associations and certain feelings, and they say something about time passing."
To bind her recent photographs with the ones she made as a teenager, Liv manipulated the old work to reflect the artist she is now. "I made really zoomed crops and super weird colour edits, printing the photograph and sometimes even photographing it again. It was almost like I was reshooting it."
Most of the images were made at Liv and Britt's parents' house in the Dutch countryside, using their parents' clothes, from their father's underwear to the most whimsical Yamamoto dresses. The sisters actually got in trouble a few times for doing shoots outdoors with beloved gowns, in the forest or near a farm with cows, so much so that their mother put a lock on the closet. They always found the key.
The sisters used these elegant clothes and dramatic backdrops to create images that, in some cases, resemble the glamorous shoots of fashion magazines. In one image, Britt stands in a forest wearing a long white dress. In another, she stands in a boiler room dressed in pyjamas. Some are more surreal; Britt covered in vaseline, wearing a bra as a headscarf, or a ribbon tied as a harness with a pretty bow on the front. The way Liv tells it, the two of them would be roaming around the house when they'd come across a brick, a fan, or some everyday object, and Britt would find a way to incorporate it into a photograph.
However, look beyond the sisters' fanciful styling and the constant of these images is a young woman and her emotional weather across days, months, and years. Through each chapter, we're met repeatedly with close-ups of her face from different angles, as though Liv was searching for something in her sister's face but could not grasp it, or she saw something and couldn’t let it go. The portraits display boredom, calmness, frustration, tiredness, anger, and moods and feelings too nuanced and elusive to pinpoint. "We were either laughing so hard that taking photos was impossible, or we were fighting, like sisters do," Britt writes at the back of the book. She thinks the best shoots were the ones during which they fought, as she got an intense look that made the images stronger.
For Liv, shooting with Britt is an experience apart. "I can ask anything of her; she understands what I mean. It's an unconscious connection. Maybe it's a sibling thing. I've had people who've seen the book tell me that they're quite moved by it because they can feel and recognise that connection. You can't achieve it with just anyone."
More recently, brands and magazines have approached the sisters to shoot together. Although Liv realised only recently the importance of this work she's been making for 15 years, she sees it as a beginning.
‘Sister Sister’ is available to purchase here.
Photography Liv Liberg