NEW YORK, NY.- On the Nest
(Kehrer Verlag, November 2015) presents two distinct but complementary bodies of work by American photographic artist and ethnographer Dona Schwartz. Each series consists of visually complex photographs that address both sides of a loaded subject -- the bewildering and emotionally fraught responsibility called parenting. Schwartz tackles the topic with sensitivity and grace, lightened by a tongue-in-cheek humor. In the first series, "Expecting," Schwartz presents portraits of parents about to have a baby; in the second, "Empty Nesters," she turns her lens on parents whose children have recently left home.
The book's artful design enables the reader to view the book from front to back or back to front as if it is two separate titles. The essays by Dona Schwartz ("Bookends") and William A. Ewing ("Great Expectations") are printed in the middle of the volume so when read in this manner each series concludes with the texts.
In both series, the parents are shown sitting or standing in their children's rooms, and the viewer is given a wide view of these culturally and psychologically-charged environments. In "Expecting," the rooms reveal the untested ideas of new parents about what is deemed necessary to bring a child into the world -- how to feather the nest. In "Empty Nesters," the exhaustion, both physical and mental, is all too evident in the faces and body language of the parents. Gone are the children, flown from the nest.
One of the strengths of Schwartz's work is that we never see the children themselves.
The rich detail in her pictures draws us into the scenes where we take in the various décors and imagine what the children might be like -- will they fulfill their parents' hopes and dreams? The compression of the two series reflects a profound truth: for all parents who have gone through the process, it seems to have passed by in a flash; those long years of struggle, anxiety, and joy -- suddenly over. Not incidentally, the families Schwartz photographs demonstrate the deep changes in American life over the past century, most noticeably in attitudes about race and sexuality. Her portraits present a cross-section of the "New American Nuclear Family," including gay and lesbian couples, mixed-race couples, and single parents.
Each photo caption includes the first names of the parents and the period of time left before the projected birth of their child or how long it has been since their child or children left home. Many of the couples participated in a simple questionnaire prepared by Schwartz. The answers are revealing and convey both the similarities and differences in viewpoints about parenting.
Expectant parents were asked: When did you decide that now was the time to have a baby? What is it about becoming a parent that you are most excited about? What is it about becoming a parent that makes you most anxious? Your life will soon change. What do you think will change the most?
Empty nesters were asked: What is it about being an empty nester that you like most? What is it about being an empty nester that you like least? What has changed most significantly in your life since your children left home?
On the Nest is a profound commentary on the wonders of bringing the next generation into the world, and then successfully to adulthood. As in her previous monograph In the Kitchen (Kehrer Verlag, 2009) in which she depicts family life organized around a single room, Schwartz brings her personal insight into On the Nest. Schwartz is the parent of what she describes as "a recently blended family and household of six kids and two dogs. I was consumed with playing multiple simultaneous roles: mother and stepmother (an uneasy amalgam of intimacy and strangeness), co-head of household, and, with whatever energy remained, romantic partner in second-time committed relationship." William A. Ewing also draws from personal experience as the father of what he describes as "two strong-willed, undisciplined (we tried!), celebrity-addled, Facebook-glued adolescents."
Dona Schwartz is a photographic artist who explores everyday life and culture. Her work examines definitions of family and the nature of domesticity, cultural continuity and change, and transitional moments in life. In addition to her work as an artist, she is also a scholar and educator. She earned a PhD at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in visual communication and ethnographic research. She has published two photographic ethnographies, Waucoma Twilight: Generations of the Farm (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992) and Contesting the Super Bowl (Routledge,1997). Her photographic monograph, In the Kitchen, was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2009. Schwartz's award-winning photographs have been internationally exhibited and published. Photographs from On the Nest have been included in three Photographic Portrait Prize exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, London, winning the third prize in 2011. Schwartz's work is included in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Musée de l'Elysée, the George Eastman House, the Harry Ransom Center, the Portland Art Museum, and the Kinsey Institute. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Schwartz lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where she is associate professor in the Department of Art at the University of Calgary. She is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.
William A. Ewing is an internationally respected curator and author. From 1977 to 1984 he was director of exhibitions at the International Center of Photography, New York, and between 1996 and 2010 he was director of the Musée de L'Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland. His exhibitions have been shown at major venues in the US and Europe, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Hayward Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery, London; the Kunsthaus Zürich; and the Montreal Museum of Art. His many publications include: reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow (2005); reGeneration2: Tomorrow's Photographers Today (2010); Face: The New Photographic Portrait (2008); and Ernst Haas: Color Correction (2010). He has co-authored two Edward Steichen publications: Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography, and Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, the Condé Nast Years 1923-1937 (2008). For many years, he taught the history and analysis of photography at the University of Geneva. Today he is director of Curatorial Projects for the international publishing house, Thames & Hudson and curator for the Carène Foundation in Switzerland. His most recent project is a major survey of Chinese contemporary photography for the Folkwang Museum in Germany. In 2010 he was named Office of France's Order of Arts and Letters.