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Christopher Anderson's best photograph: Marion breastfeeding, Brooklyn

Paul Abina

Sept. 12, 2019

T his image was made in a loft in Brooklyn, New York, where I lived with Marion, my partner and now my wife, and where we started our family. It’s where I came of age, I guess, and where I photographed most of the pictures for my book Son . It represents youth and love and home, and it’s also particular to a place where we lived, and Brooklyn as a community.
That loft had a lot to do with my development as a photographer, particularly my use of light and colour, because it was bathed in bright sunlight most of the day. Though it was one step up from a squat, it was one of the important nodes of the creative community of Williamsburg. Many photographers lived there – including Tim Hetherington , Alex Majoli , Stanley Greene and Thomas Dworzak – and all these well-known sculptors and painters. Then it was bought by developers and we were all evicted in 2016. It was the end of an era. Now it’s luxury condos.
My son was about eight months old; there are clothes and toys on the floor. Marion was still breastfeeding and here you have a scene that was part of our everyday life at the time, her feeding him there on the bed. It’s a sexy image, but it’s not as sexual as people might think.
I was incredibly active as a photographer at the time, but I was starting to question my role. It was also in the aftermath of the economic crash, a time when photographers couldn’t make a living any more, especially ones like me who had worked for magazines. I had been a war photographer, a photojournalist, but I was having trouble reconciling the idea of being a white male running around trying to say something about someone else’s experiences.
I was grappling with ideas of subjectivity and objectivity, and reaching the point where I understood that, no matter where I was, I was always photographing my own experience. I was coming to understand that the only thing I really had something to say about was my own life and what was immediately around me.
The idea that photographing my family could be of value was a revelation, and marked a shift in my understanding of my photographic world. I had taken pictures of my family before, but they were separate from my “work”. It wasn’t until my son was born in 2008 that I realised that not only were these photographs part of my work, they were the core of it.
Do I think this image objectifies my wife [because you can’t see her head]? It’s a fair criticism, but I’m incapable of seeing it because I don’t see this picture in a vacuum. I see it in the context of a life with these people, and as part of a body of work about my family and my home, and people I love. It’s like taking a sentence out of a book and trying to make a statement about the whole book.
Even forgetting about context, I look at the image now and, trying to distance myself, I still see something about tenderness and caring and love. Again, I come back to love. I like to use the word subjectify – it’s a joke, but it’s also got a serious point. I think of photography as subjective, in terms of the person who makes the photograph but also in terms of the viewer, what they bring to it. I am inspired and amazed by the fact that these images resonated with people the way they did. The only thing I can attribute that to is this idea that I was trying to communicate something both universal and very specific.
Christopher Anderson’s CV
Born: Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, 1970. Grew up in Texas.
Studied: Anthropology at Abilene Christian University, Texas.
Influences: “You can definitely see influences such as William Eggleston . Being North American and photographing in colour, I feel very much connected the American colour photography tradition. I am influenced as much by painting as photography.”
High point: Photography has given me a life full of rich experiences, from meeting Barack Obama to witnessing immigrants trying to cross the Caribbean in a small boat. But I don’t think of photography as big-game hunting or ticking off a list of accomplishments. My highlight is the last photo I made.”
Low point: “It’s hard to think of even the difficult times as a low point.”
Top tip: “Know yourself, because until you do, you’re trying to do something like someone else.”
• Follow Christopher Anderson on Instagram . Cop, published by Stanley/Barker, is out now .
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