Gwen Coyne: Vignettes of Innocence
Conchita Fernandes takes a look at Gwen Coyne’s compelling narratives of her daughter, that are filled with sparkling moments from her childhood.
Our memories age just as we do. With each passing year they lose their veracity, resulting in the loss of tiny slivers of details. But soon, our senses take over, smoothening and embellishing, filling in the fractures. No wonder that, sometimes, our memories turn out to be better versions of reality.
Yet, our memories have tried to break away from the moulds of our thoughts, to pave the way for a more physical representation of past encounters… Poetry, music, painting, photography… Things that we can hold on to and feel. Gwen Coyne takes us on one such visual journey, to preserve a version of her daughter’s incredible childhood.
Breathing Life into Memories
“I remember my childhood being magical and intense,” she said. This was one of the several aspects which stirred her to create a photographic memoir of her daughter. At the same time, it was spurred by another event, one that took place during her childhood. “Most of the images I have from my own childhood are in my memories, as my parents’ camera was stolen when I was little. Maybe these undocumented early years influenced my approach to photographing her—a desire to evoke a fantastical sense of childhood,” Gwen mentions.
Her photographs of Greta are a pleasant and unexpected detour to what one would expect from the chronicles of a child. They aren’t your standard family album pictures. Greta is unposed and left to react and interact with her surroundings, while Gwen lingers close, ready to press the shutter when the moment presents itself.
Her vision entails creating a version of Greta’s childhood that is distinct from reality, and so you are presented with a colourless, yet dynamic glimpse into the little girl’s life. We get to see the various qualities that lends Greta her lively and spirited personality, something that Gwen is keen on recording and preserving. The photographs also have a healing and invigorating aura around them, and was a means for Gwen to cope with Greta’s fragile health. “She has asthma and I never know when a mild cold will turn into an emergency. With my photographs, I want to record moments that will help me remember a space and time in between these periods of intensity,” Gwen says. One of these photographs was made around the time when Greta first started walking, and remains to be one of Gwen’s most favourite images. “Sunlight was illuminating her in the shape of a spotlight, throwing her father, who was walking beside her, into the shadows. She was frequently very ill in her early years, and I find the image symbolic of her struggle and perseverance,” Gwen recounts.
I want to take pictures that tell their own stories—that become something in themselves. In that respect, any subject has photographic potential for me.
Greta’s Interaction with the Camera
Since her birth, Greta’s reaction to the camera has continued to evolve. From regarding the device as an extension of her mother, she is gradually becoming more conscious of Gwen’s focus on her. “She makes it clear when she is not interested in being photographed, which I respect. But for the most part, she enjoys the attention,” she said.
Juggling Motherhood and a Career
Very often, Gwen’s hectic work schedule leaves very little time for herself and her family. “Balancing work and family is not easy, and very often I find myself quite exhausted. Moreover, I can’t help but feel guilty sometimes, taking the time I need to pursue my personal interests,” she says. But Greta makes it all worth it. “Fortunately, what gives me joy outside of work is the time I get to spend with my family,” she mentions. Whether it’s a trip to the park or the beach, or even setting up a playdate with one of Greta’s friends, Gwen makes sure that weekends are almost always reserved for Greta.
Gwen’s images embody all the qualities that make motherhood special, and will mature and become stronger as the years go by. I am in fact reminded of something that Virginia Woolf had once said, “I can only note that the past is beautiful, because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” What a wonderful way to look at why we photograph… While some of us do it to remember, others do it to discover themselves.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Better Photography.