In this black-and-white series, Coburn uses both himself and his family members to challenge the understanding of what family is—his own lived experience differing so much from stereotypical experiences of family life. There’s a psychological estrangement to each subject’s presence that is both compelling and mysterious, a concept that is backed up by Coburn’s artist statement. When Coburn says that his ancestors “ideologies are largely rooted in fear—a mode of self-preservation that is designed to protect them from those that are different”, he is criticising both his family’s personal shortcomings and their impact on his own outlook, and on the broader socio-political predicament of today’s America. “I think of this project as a form of aesthetic defiance”, he says. “My only fears manifest in tandem: I fear from where I came—I fear what I’ve become. I do not have my own family in the traditional sense. This is a knee-jerk reaction. This is narcissism”.
Coburn’s subjects are captured with wonderful delicacy in shots that appear both staged and spontaneous, illuminating issues that are often completely suppressed in traditional chipper family albums. He contrasts natural and artificial lights with distinct shadows and varied exposure levels, to present a different picture than the one we are used to.