Matthew Avignone – Stranger Than Family

Photographs ©Matthew Avignone

For many, when hearing the word “family” brings other words to mind; mom, dad, brothers, sisters, love and birth. But what if you were flown into your mother and father’s arms not by a stork but by a Boeing 747. My siblings and I were all adopted across the pacific from the countries India and South Korea, we came from foster mothers and lonely orphanages to parents and a little home in Illinois, some of us healthy and some with life-inhibiting special needs ranging from neurofibromatosis to spina bifida. As a son I am interested in documenting our lives from the significant, such as a first birth, to the banality of my brother after his shower. For at one time we might have all been strangers, but with time, love and perseverance we are fortunate to call ourselves a family as one.

I was browsing through a book during the first photobook meetup in NYC when I heard someone say “I flew here from Chicago just for this.” It turned out to be Matthew Avignone. After the book presentations, the crowd started to trickle out, leaving only a handful of us. During this time I was able to look at Matthew’s book of this project in progress. It was impressive. I don’t want to speak for the others but I think we all felt it was a strong body of work that would eventually turn into something very powerful.

There’s a long tradition of photographers documenting their family, but most of the time it doesn’t rise above sentimentality and nostalgia. Plus, let’s face it, as much as each family is worth documenting for historical purposes, most tend to lead fairly ordinary lives. Matthew’s family is different. It’s a unique story offering a different perspective on the American Family. The body of work that Matthew has accrued thus far demonstrates his passion and determination to tell his family’s story. He openly states that it’s a work in progress and given his photographic intelligence I suspect it’ll evolve as he continues to push forward.

He’s off to a strong start and I think his choice to mix in family snapshots and documents was a smart move. As the work moves forward, I’d like to see more of the struggles his family faces. There are hints of it the work right now, but I suspect he hasn’t shown anything that might be overly painful. And that’s really where things get complicated when documenting your own family. Finding the right balance between portraying them the way you feel about them and the way they actually are is difficult. It will be interesting to see how Matthew completes the project.

  • Vi

    That’s so your style Matthew ! I remember the early stages of your portraits when you were seeking a meaningful project to do, at a time i think it was “the young adults” or something like that, but this is powerful – especially the story. Inspiring work.