For Seen Not Heard, North Carolina-based photographer Heather Evans Smith explores her relationship with her 4-year-old daughter, turning her lens on the girl for the first time to construct fanciful portraits that highlight both the joys and anxieties of childhood.
At this age, Smith describes observing a change in her daughter; where she was once a baby entirely dependent upon her mother, she has since grown into her own self, distinct from what her parents might project upon her. At times, it’s been challenging collaborating conceptually with a child, but the pair has developed a system of working together. If her daughter is not on board with a shoot, Smith will wait until she is, sometimes for a stretch of many weeks. Playing dress up and snapping iPhone images is a good way to get her young muse excited about a session, and she is always awarded a new book in exchange for her cooperation.
Almost all of Smith’s props and costumes are pulled from her own girlhood, becoming the inevitable reminders of the mother that remains just out of frame. As the daughter dons each precious and time-worn item, she becomes a doll sprung to life, alternately embracing and rejecting the vestiges of her heritage. Ceasing to be a simple extension of her mother, she becomes like the restless caterpillar, retreating into her cocoon before emerging as a fantastical creature that is both familiar and entirely enigmatic.
Here, Smith dismantles the notion that children should be seen but not heard, presenting her daughter’s silence as an opportunity to listen to her innermost self and to heed the growing complexities of their bond. When asked what she hopes her daughter sees in these images years down the line, she mentions the precedent of confidence and trust that they have set, wishing only that her child will recognize the “honesty and openness” expressed within.
Heather Evans Smith was a Top 50 finalist for Photolucida’s Critical Mass.
All images © Heather Evans Smith