Artwork #47

The Departure

by Rory Hejtmanek

Digital photograph on archival pigment print, 2019

Courtesy of the Artist

I have been photographing my given family for twelve years. That time has brought half a dozen births, half a dozen deaths, and a whole lot of somersaults and tantrums in between.

I am interested in durational work and its ability to capture cycles: life cycles, death cycles, shifts in identities over time, and stories as seen through multiple generations. This is one of the great gifts of photographing a family, especially a big, sprawling one: the way all of it is mixed up together. The past that is carried and the future already bursting into being. Collisions of memory and youth, aging and becoming. 

Through family I explore the question of belonging. Family is a shared reality handed down - a story, a set of given circumstances. Individual identity emerges within and pushes against the container of family. I am fascinated with capturing these moments of emergence. Some of them are filled with power, others burden, others with the ache of feeling alone in a room full of loved ones. 

My long-time obsession with photographing my family coalesced into the central focus of my work when I documented the death of my mother and the grief that followed. Memory and the experience of loss have themselves become ghosts in the work. The changes my family went through in the wake of death constituted a cycle of work that lasted 10 years. 

As I begin a new chapter, I find myself drawn to more explicit explorations of gender, especially after relocating to build a family “compound” in a rural community. Living in close community with my siblings’ children and having the opportunity to photograph them on a daily basis has brought the expectations and teaching of gender roles into sharper focus in my work. Being away from my queer and transgender family and living a mostly closeted life in the country is also forcing me to explore my own assimilation. 

The Definition of Time navigates belonging, moment to moment and through generations. The leap, the tumbling forward into the next story. The continual becoming as the cycle begins, and begins, and begins.