“Kin.” By Monica Styles of Australia National University. “The etymology of the word “kin” extends beyond the meaning of family and relatives to include values such as reproduction, offspring, gender, race, and rank. The construct of the word kin is reflective of the constructs of a family, and is an idea that is questioned in this body of work. Elements such as gender binaries, age variables, and family roles all contribute to the individuality of families. Within my own family we have an overwhelming amount of women, a factor that has had an effect not only on us as people but also on the domestic space we call home. This curiosity became an exploration of families with a similar dynamic to my own and the predominant theme of kin.

What Does Your Family Look Like?

This is the question on the minds of participants in the Newhouse School’s project Family. Life. So far, the project comprises over 2,000 photos, by students from 34 schools in 14 countries. The Polarr team spoke with Director Andrea Wise about the project’s origins and challenges. If you haven’t already, we suggest heading over to Family. Life.’s website — it’s positively labyrinthine and well worth getting lost in.

Emily: After clicking around the website, the scope of the project seems enormous. Can you please describe its concept for our readers?

Andrea: The concept of “Family. Life.” was to revisit Edward Steichen’s 1955 photography project “The Family of Man” in a contemporary way — both in terms of how to interpret “family,” as well as in terms of how to tell those stories.

Photo by Amer Abdulah. Reza’s Visual Academy project “​Exile Voices​”​ ​will eventually document the training of children at refugee camps around the world over a five-year period.​ From December 2013 onward, Reza will train 15 Syrian ​refugee ​children ages 11 to 15 at Kawargosk Refugee Camp in Kurdistan, Iraq.​ The project documents their daily life at the camp.

Whereas “The Family of Man” was entirely comprised of still documentary photographs, “Family. Life.” includes both still and motion projects ranging from documentary/non-fiction approaches to portraiture and fine art approaches — entirely by students.

“Till Death Do Us Part.” By Klara Soti of the University of Novi Sad in Serbia. “Eleven years ago, Valeria, my grandmother, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As this illness comes with dementia, my grandfather Otto slowly had to take over her everyday tasks. For now, Valeria forgets to eat, to walk, to speak, and she needs a lot of caring. Through all these years, Otto was there for her and he still is, showing that he keeps the promise he gave her 58 years ago.”

E: How did the idea for the project arise?

A: The idea was my mentor’s, Mike Davis. He is the Alexia Tsairis Chair of Documentary Photography at Syracuse University’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where I was a graduate student.

“Sunday.” By Teodora Ivkov of the University of Novi Sad in Serbia. “Radmila does her cousin’s hair on a Sunday…?urug is a village in northern Serbia with more than 8,000 residents. It’s about 100 kilometers away from the capital of Belgrade. Most people are Orthodox Christian farmers. In the summer, they swim in the Tisa river. Dogs are meant to guard houses, cats are meant to hunt mice, and pigs are meant to be eaten.”

Part of his role with the Alexia Foundation is to create opportunities for work to be made that might otherwise not exist.

The Newhouse school has an annual fall workshop in which all students in the Multimedia Photography and Design (MPD) department produce bodies of work during one weekend in October while they are coached by working professionals in the industry.

“Down With Light.” By Romana Manpreet of the Danish School of Media and Journalism. “Gare De Nord, Bucharest, Romania, 2014: Deep below the center of the city of Bucharest, lies something more than brick and mortar. It simultaneously marks survival and death. Since Romania’s communist reign dating back to 1966, individuals who endured the antiabortion mandate lead unique lives. In 1989, when communism fell, they retreated into the city’s tunnels. Here, they make a living by trading scraps for basic amenities, provided by a man they call Bruce Lee. The tunnel is home to the children of a dark age. These children grew, and as parents, they bore another generation that lives and breathes in the same squalor.”

For the past several years, Mike and Bruce Strong, the MPD Department Chair, have focused the fall workshop around stories about family, with more specific themes year by year, so Mike wanted to try to apply that model on a global scale.

“New Roots.” By Sarah Ann Jump of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “When Nyirazana Munyarugero’s husband, Pricard Kamali, was killed in a violent conflict in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009, she fled the country with her six children. Now, the members of the Kamali family are refugees who have resettled in America with hopes of finding peace in their permanent new home. Muhire, Nyirazana’s brother, became the patriarch of the family. As the family’s main English speaker, Muhire helps them navigate through the resettlement process as each of the family members adapt to life in America at their own pace. They struggled with becoming self sufficient. “When you are starting a new life, everything is difficult,” Muhire says. “You have to be able to stand for it. If I have been able to stand for my life in insecurity, it is easier to stand for my life when I have stability. In time, everything becomes easier.”

E: The broad umbrella is ‘family life,’ but there are many other themes that work is filed under (agony, beginnings, remembrance, youth, etc.) How did those crystallize?

A: The themes on the website arose organically from the work, but the idea to categorize the work thematically for the website came from the design students who were involved in the project.

“QUINCEAÑERA.” By Andrea Patino Contreras of UNC Chapel Hill. “A Mexican immigrant family living in Chapel Hill, NC, keeps its cultural heritage alive as they celebrate their daughter Johanna’s 15th birthday.”

Like the annual fall workshop for visual storytelling, last year we had a design workshop to work the design for the website, book, promotional materials, and more.

“Korean Rhapsody.” By the students of Chung-Ang University in South Korea. “Despite Korea’s historical troubles, its people have achieved great economic growth since 1960, the year of the student uprising that began the April Revolution, which overthrew the First Republic of South Korea. These turbulent years helped develop Koreans’ sense of community and increased their devotion to Korean culture. We aimed to capture the lives and families of Koreans who were born in the 20th century and live in the 21st century — everything from birth to death and from happiness to sadness. We hope to capture Korea’s culture, which is at once unique and universal.”

The MPD department brought in professional designers to coach students, who worked in various teams. It was quite a challenge for the designers because at that point, we had not yet received the work. So the idea for this website navigation by theme came out of that workshop, but then once we’d received the work for this project, we chose the specific themes based on the themes that we saw in the work.

“Communal Living.” By Mikhaila Jurkiewicz of Australia National University. “The work is a collection of monochrome photographs from share houses around Australia, from Canberra, Goulburn and Sydney. The work is about the interactions and the relationships of their occupants and the spaces they live within. Individuals brought together by the basic necessity to live. In the communal space the most complex of bonds and families form as the house must become the ëhomeí. Each house brings with it a line of commonality; the empty bottles, the found furniture and objects that fill the rooms and spaces. The housemates each form their own mentality as a household. Neither two houses result in the same. The differences between each of the houses shown; built by the micro-relationships between the individuals in each house. Some groups form great solidarity as pseudo-families away from home, becoming willing to bare all to one another. Others maintain space between each other as strangers under the same roof. Share-house university students. Names withheld.”

E: You have participating artists in 14 different countries, from many more photography schools. How did you choose which places to approach?

“Down With Light.” By Romana Manpreet of the Danish School of Media and Journalism. “A group of homeless drug addicts rejected by society have found a home in the tunnel through which Bucharest’s heating pipes run…Ramona, 33, center left, and her daughter, Andreea, 8, center right, stand with other homeless residents inside the tunnel.”

A: We approached just about everyone we could think of. Fortunately between the Alexia Foundation, the Newhouse School, and our wonderful project partners (PhotoShelter, ASMP and PDN) we were able to cover a lot of ground. Mike and I had a world map in the hallway outside his office at Newhouse where we placed pins to mark each region of the world we had represented.

“Chameleons of Eastern Europe.” By Mathias Lovgreen Bojesen of the Danish School of Media and Journalism. “Young gypsies in the Hungarian village Sátoraljaújhely live a life of music, love, and the quest for money. M·riÛ Kalocsai, 19, and Robi Lakatos, 22, are both part of the music gypsy group Romano Suno, which is an initiative created for young guys like them to keep them away from crime and illegal family business led by powerful uncles.”

Then we worked to try to target the least represented regions of the world. But it was difficult, particularly because many regions of the world don’t have the same concentrations of photography programs as in the United States and Europe.

“Values.” By Sevval Sengul of Bahcesehir University in Turkey. “Sometimes itís really hard being honest about our own families, so we choose to lie about the one thing we have all our lives because itís among those things that canít quite be understood by a few words but Iíll try anyway. It is one of few things that can kill us but also give life. Through our eyes, they begin and end with us but when we stand behind a camera, we look through every eye that shined before and will shine after us. Years have passed and all you once knew are behind so many days. Youíre sitting on that armchair that still smells like the old days. Once in a while you like to get up and stare at the bookshelves mindlessly. You put your finger on one of the books and drag it with closed eyes. You stop whenever your arm gets too heavy. Usually, it ends on one those books that you swore youíll read but never did however that day your arm took itís time until it stopped. You grab the book off the shelf and weight it with your hand, still eyes closed. You open one eye then the other, itís an old copy of Albert Camusí ìThe Strangerî and you remember reading this. You shake the book to see If anythingís between the papers, something falls out and lands on the floor upside down.”

As a result, while this project certainly has enormous reach, there are huge portions of the world, and particularly of the developing world, that are not represented, despite our best efforts to reach them.

“For Kenth.” By Brittany Greeson of the Danish School of Media and Journalism. “After several doctor visits, Britta realized that her son Kenth’s slow development was actually a mental handicap. At first prepared to take on the challenge of raising him at home, she saw that as he progressed into adulthood, his mental illness did, too. His violent behavior became overwhelming for the family, and Kenth was sent to live in an institution with hopes of a better life. The reality that first greeted Kenth was far from ideal. Life in an institution designed for people with autism only heightened his violence and misery. He retreated to isolation. Years passed before Kenth moved to Solund, an institution near his home in Skanderborg, Denmark. Solund had recently transitioned into a philosophy called “gentle teaching.” Today, Kenth, 35, is one of more than 200 residents at Solund. With his family’s support and his caretakers’ attention, his once violent behavior has revealed a complex and curious man. Almost eight years in the making, Kenth has a new story.”

E: Do you have any plans for expansion?

A: Right now we’re still working on finishing up this iteration of the project! We’ve just recently secured a generous grant from PhotoWings which has allowed us to print an initial run of the book so next month we should receive those and be able to start mailing out copies of the book to all contributing schools.

“Sunday.” By Teodora Ivkov of the University of Novi Sad in Serbia. “Lunch at Topalski’s…This is a story about a village in the north Serbia which is told through the lives of five families, families who live in the same street, the same street where I grew up. In Serbia, Sunday lunch is very important. It’s a time when everyone is home, and it’s a time for rest.”

After that we’re working on securing a publisher to handle publication so we can make the book available to the public at an affordable price point.

E: Did you have any difficulty approaching artists in other countries for contributing to a US-based project?

A: We didn’t actually encounter any political or bureaucratic hurdles for this project. I think it helped that this was an educational endeavor and that we were soliciting participation from other photography schools.

“Struggling to Surface.” By Hilary Swift of the Brooks Institute in California. “Over a year ago my cousin, and best friend, started using heroin. I have changed her name in this story under her request. Althea began self-medicating with prescription opiates in her senior year of high school to help her deal with depression and debilitating panic attacks. When Percocet became too expensive, Althea began to use heroin. Althea and I are both from Vermont, a state that has seen at least a 700 percent increase in heroin use in the last 15 years. This story chronicles her struggle with addiction and shows the cycle of relapse.”

E: Were you particularly surprised by any of the submissions? Did any subvert your expectations in interesting ways?

A: It was really a delight to receive the work and to begin to see how all these different students interpreted the theme. They were surprising in a really wonderful way.

“Empty Room,” by Deborah Hughes Mulcahey, from St. Kevin’s College in the Republic of Ireland. “Approximately one in six couples in Ireland suffer from infertility problems, an issue that touches all, either directly or indirectly. And yet, it is a conversation many have never had. This project aims to raise awareness about the truth of the day-to-day struggles and feelings of shame surrounding infertility.”

One student, Aaron Bell from the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University made portraits of various trees that had been planted in remembrance of a loved one or life event. It was also very moving to see how many students chose to photograph their own families.

“Sunday.” By Teodora Ivkov of the University of Novi Sad in Serbia.“Waiting for sister to come out into the snow.”

Sarah Hunter from Australian National University and Michael Santiago from the San Francisco Art Institute both photographed their parent’s journeys dealing with cancer.

“I am Woman.” By Sarah Hunter of Australian National University. “In May 2014, my mother was diagnosed with metaplastic breast cancer. Having breastfed her children for a total of five years, her breasts had been significant to her womanhood. With brave composure, she made the momentous decision to receive a double mastectomy, followed by four cycles of chemotherapy.I embraced her invitation to photograph her journey, which I began shooting during the week of her diagnosis. Over the next five months, I captured my mother’s spirit and determination, but also her submission to the medical decisions she was forced to make.”

Some of the other powerful stories include Deborah Hughes Mulcahy of St. Kevin’s College in Ireland’s autobiographical project about struggling with infertility as well as Mathias Svold and Petra Theibel Jacobsen of the Danish School of Media and Journalism’s project about someone who makes reborn dolls and a young woman who has one such doll who she cares for as though it were her own child.

Interview conducted and produced by Emily von Hoffmann and Polarr — Pro Photo Editor Made for Everyone. Follow us on twitter and try our products while our startup is still alive : ).