My girls are 5 years apart. Sisters. At the younger’s birth the older stepped in like a mini-mama. So happy was she to have a baby to hold. So happy was I to have an extra set of hands to coddle and soothe and entertain this third child of mine. Lucky us all around.
For years the connection thrived and grew. Delightful sisters playing all sorts of games of dress up and house and climbing trees and orphanage. With a brother in between and another that would join us later it was a sister sandwich full of love and light and lots and lots of laughs.
As the older moved out of imagination-land her needs in a sibling changed and the relationship grew a tad persnickety at times. Still mostly friendly but sometimes suffering from that “you’re an embarrassing little sister” thing that can sometimes happen. I saw it. I remembered how it felt and I didn’t really feel I had much power to sway it.
Then came the camera. Big sister saved up her baby sitting money for a super sweet camera and started taking photography lessons from Leon Alesi, an artist/photographer friend of ours. He specialized in portraits and shared that love with her, hence, her assignments were portrait based – perfectly satisfying to my oldest who had a house full of subjects to choose from.
She tried us all on for size. 4th child was too opinionated. Mama was too busy and couldn’t keep her mouth shut long enough for a good pose. Papa was pretty good but wouldn’t sit for long. 2nd child was good too but tired quickly of the sessions. Little sister was just right.
Turns out little sister loved to pose and please big sister for endless. And dress up in outlandish costumes both of her own design and of her big sister’s choosing. Wild hats, boots, dresses. And to pose she’d go wherever she was told to go and strike a pose of her own or of big sister’s dictation. In fact, little sister took dictation amazingly well on these shoots – which I never would have predicted! On these projects they’d work together for hours on end, biking and walking to all sorts of neighborhood locations with camera, wardrobe bag and props in tow.
Both in their artistic capture and also in that they show a bond I didn’t know could be captured on film. There is a gaze in the subject’s eye that is nothing short of adoration. There is a love between subject and artist that is palpable. There is an ability to connect through the lens all the way to the soul and it is lovely to see.
I talked to Leon about this beautiful gift coming from these lessons and assignments; a lifelong gift of sisterly love and connection, a documentation of every step of the way and a collection of sublime portraits of this sweet girl of ours. He smiled sort of knowingly. As if he understood what can happen when an artist falls in love with his subject. And as he smiled and I thought of all the breathtaking portraits I had seen of his, I suddenly realized it was about more than just setting or subject. It was about love and connection. Love of the craft and of the vision held in the mind’s eye and connection to the subject. In his bio he states “a shared discovery is what I want for the viewer.”
I’m loving this discovery of mine, as onlooker, that sometimes siblings need to step away together in order to find their shared gifts. And I’m going to encourage this kind of stepping away as siblings more often. Without me there to meddle in their sibling affairs or as someone for whom they battle for my attention..
And in the meantime, I’ll just thank my lucky starts for siblings; my own and the ones I’ve birthed.
**This post was written a while ago and I was prompted to find it by a cousin who was asking about sibling dynamics. I was happy to rediscover this idea, that siblings need space to grow into their own relationship.**