Exploring self-identity has a long photographic history; with thoughtfulness and purpose, the fruits of the experience can be extremely profound.
In Clare Benson‘s series, “The Shepherd’s Daughter,” she photographed herself and her family, exploring the past and present, and reflecting on her lineage leading to her upbringing in northern Michigan. “I’ve been looking at a lot of old family photographs, many of them from hunting trips in the Alaskan wilderness, and some really old photos of my great grandmother, from a time when the women in the family were hunters and the men were cutting down trees,” she says.
Photography’s otherworldly ability to time travel lets her explore “these faraway and unknown histories, looking into the past to understand the present and consider what is to come.” An ongoing series started in 2011, “The Shepherd’s Daughter” places the focus on Benson’s relationship with her father, and the cultural and physical landscape in which he raised her.
Examining her own family history through photography has permeated Benson’s work from the start. Due to her mother’s untimely death, she says, “[I grew up] curious about genetic and family connections, memory, human mortality and vulnerability.” As a result, she began referencing memories, dreams and artifacts in her photography “to slowly uncover the mysteries of [her] mother’s life.”
Last fall, Benson traveled to photograph in Sweden, just north of the Arctic Circle, on a Fulbright Fellowship. Working among scientists and reindeer herders, the project examines the region’s histories of space research and indigenous Sami mythology. Benson says, “It’s like something from a dream.” —Amy Touchette