Heather Evans Smith is a 39 year-old American photographer. In her recent series Seen Not Heard, Heather draws from her own personal experiences as a mother to explore the mother-daughter relationship through a series of carefully staged, striking photographs.
Hello Heather, thank you for this interview. What are your main interests as a photographer?
I try to shoot on an emotional level. For me, I want to feel something when I look at a photograph. I didn’t always shoot this way but now it feels like a necessity. The last four years my images have been based on my life as a mother. I don’t know if this will be the case down the road but expressing my personal emotions is the most honest way for me to be connected to my work.
Seen Not Heard is a series about the mother-daughter relationship, which is embodied in the photos by you and your own daughter. How much is the work about you and your little girl in particular, and how much does it explore the mother-daughter relationship as a universal theme?
It is definitely a combination of both. Having a child has made me think about the mother-daughter relationship in general. With this work I am not only thinking about issues facing us today, but what we will encounter in the future.
The Seen Not Heard images suggest a very tight bond between the mother and the daughter; in a few pictures you could even call it possessive. How would you describe it?
There is a fine line between possession and protection. I wanted to explore that in the work. The images Possession and Cocoon are a direct result of this idea. As much as we want to protect our child, they are their own person and belong to themselves.
Tell us more about this photo.
As my daughter grows older I think about what traditions I want to pass down to her and what paths we should start anew. The elizabethean collar represents heritage and tradition. As our relationship grows, I realize that we are exploring new territories, hence the cutting of the collar. Every mother and child is different and with each stage I am learning we have to do what works for us.
Is there any of the Seen Not Heard photos that you consider particularly significant or is a favorite, and why?
Of my most recent images I consider Shed my favorite. My daughter is standing under two pictures on a paneled wall. One is of my mother and the other is of me. She is wearing a dress that was mine as a child. Though the dress fits, it is uncomfortable and she is unzipping it, shedding expectations put upon her. She is becoming her own person, yet the images of her predecessors still hang over her.
Every image in the series is perfectly crafted, and the set in its whole creates a fable-like atmosphere. Did you have any specific reference or source of inspiration while working on Seen Not Heard?
I have no specific reference other than my tastes. I am drawn to vintage sets and costumes, cinematic quirky films and melancholy music. All these things are constantly inspiring the look of my work.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary photographers?
I am inspired by the emotional qualities of Sally Mann, the dress, props and sets of Tim Walker and the cinematic feel of Gregory Crewdson.
Do you have any other passion beside photography?
I love interior decorating. We moved into a new home last year and when I haven’t been shooting I have been working to make it a reflection of myself, combining old and new belongings in a space that tells a story. I have also been a dancer most of my life. I don’t fancy myself a professional but I have been taking lessons in different forms of dance since my youth.
Choose your #threewordsforphotography.
Melancholy. Romantic. Metaphoric.