Photos celebrating human connection in the wake of Covid-19

Photos celebrating human connection in the wake of Covid-19
A new exhibition curated by Erin O’Toole brings together the work of six contemporary photographers exploring the theme of kinship.

"Blood is thicker than water,” English clergyman William Jenkyn said in an 1652 sermon. But he wasn’t done. Understanding that true kinship runs deeper than mere biology, he observed, “The blood of Christ beautifying any of our friends and children should make us prefer them before those, between whom and us there’s only a watery relation of nature."

Indeed, the ties that unite us are born among people who share spirits, hearts and minds. With the new exhibition, Kinship: Photography and Connection, curator Erin O’Toole brings together the work of six contemporary photographers exploring the intricate web of connections between people, place and community.

Whether familial, platonic, romantic, cultural or geographic, there exists a fundamental human need to feel a sense of belonging and mutual recognition. Photography readily lends itself to the act of seeing and being seen, creating a profound connection between artist and muse that exists beyond words.

“The primary inspiration for the exhibition was to respond to the prevailing sense of isolation and separation created by the pandemic with something hopeful and human," says O’Toole, who adopted an organic approach to the curatorial process. "I wanted to feature photographs that were born out of connection at a time when so many of us are yearning for it."

Top to bottom: Alessandra Sanguinetti, The Necklace, 1999; courtesy the artist; © Alessandra Sanguinetti. Alessandra Sanguinetti, The Black Cloud, 2000; courtesy the artist; © Alessandra Sanguinetti.

Kinship features over 80 works by Farah Al Qasimi, Mercedes Dorame, Jarod Lew, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Deanna Templeton – artists from all walks of life who use photography to explore the possibilities of human connection.

“I’m using ‘kinship’ to refer to a broad range of relationships and affinities,” O’Toole says. “The term is quite elastic, and I purposefully stretched it to challenge the more narrow, traditional definition. The bonds between these photographers and their subjects vary widely. There are family connections, to be sure, but also ties to friends, to community, to the land, and even to animals.”

Sisterhood plays a pivotal role in Kinship, exploring the bonds between girls and young women as they develop their sense of self in community. For more than two decades, Magnum Photos member Alessandra Sanguinetti has been chronicling the lives of cousins Guille and Belinda coming of age in rural Argentina, creating a visual biography born of mutual collaboration.

American photographer Deanna Templeton draws upon her own youth in her work, pairing revelatory excerpts from her teenage diaries with street portraits of young women who possess a striking blend of rebellion, joy and vulnerability in their shared encounters. “The combination is a powerful gesture of hope and encouragement for young women struggling as she did in her youth,” says O’Toole.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Darkroom Mirror (_2140603), 2018; courtesy the artist, Bortolami Gallery, New York, DOCUMENT, Chicago, and Vielmetter Los Angeles; © Paul Mpagi Sepuya.

Kinship also looks at the relationship between people and place – both through Mercedes Dorame’s return to her ancestral lands, and in Jarod Lew’s photographs of first generation Asian Americans navigating between two worlds.

“The connections between these artists and their subjects are palpable in the photographs,” says O’Toole. “It is the strength of those bonds that gives the work its power and makes it so resonant.”

Kinship: Photography and Connection is on view through November 26, 2023, at SFMOMA in San Francisco.

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