A few things in life can have an everlasting impact and change the entire perception of our existence such as the birth of a child and becoming a parent. On the other hand, once the children are old enough to leave home and start living on their own, the parents face another big change in their lives. The monumental transitions and events of such importance are the times when people re-examine their own self and redefine their roles. American photographer Dona Schwartz examines families facing one of the two major changes in their lives, capturing the striking photographs of parents awaiting the birth of their first child, or dealing with an empty nest after the children have left home. On The Nest is the first solo exhibition by Dona Schwartz at Stephen Bulger Gallery, presenting the extended series of photographs created in the intimacy of the families’ homes.
After attaining a PhD at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, Dona Schwartz specialized in visual communication and ethnographic research. Her work explores and captures the spheres of everyday life and culture. She is involved with photography as an artist, scholar and educator. The renowned photographer has had her work internationally exhibited and published, the remarkable images created by Donna Schwartz have become parts of the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Musée de l’Elysée, Switzerland; George Eastman House, New York; the Harry Ransom Center, Texas; the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; and the Kinsey Institute, Indiana. The award winning artist has produced several academic publications, among them are two photographic ethnographies, namely Waucoma Twilight: Generations of the Farm (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992) and Contesting the Super Bowl (Routledge, 1997). Her most recent book, baring the same name as the exhibition; On The Nest, has been published in 2015 by Kehrer Verlag.
Even though the two distinct bodies of work in On The Nest series are almost utterly opposite, they complement each other and create an extremely emotional representation of changing periods in life. The visually complex photographs address both sides of the poignant subject of parenting. The heavy topic is approached by Schwartz with much sensitivity and grace, even embroidered with a tongue-in-cheek humor at times. The viewer is given a wide view of the culturally, emotionally and psychologically-charged environments once they step into the rooms with the parents. As the main subjects, at least the visible ones, they offer a glimpse into their experience as the fresh, soon-to-be moms and dads, or as the already aged and experienced mothers and fathers who have successfully completed one of the biggest parts in their never-ending jobs as the parents. The children themselves are never to be seen in Schwartz’s work, only their future or former rooms stand as testaments of their impactful existence. Years of struggle, joy, anxiety and bliss which are about to come, or are already behind, breathe life into the narrative of this unique photographic project.
Another quite significant aspect of this body of work lies in the demonstration of the deep cultural and social changes which occurred in American life over the past century. Both race and sexuality are the themes which cannot be overlooked in this amazing series; not incidentally, Schwartz portrayed a cross-section of the “New American Nuclear Family”, including same-sex couples, mixed-race couples and single parents. Each caption of the photos consists of the first names of the parents and the particular period of time left before the anticipated birth of the child or it shows how long it has been since the child, or children, have left home. On The Nest exhibition of photographic works by Dona Schwartz is on view January 23 – February 27, 2016, at Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto, Canada. Talk with the artist is scheduled for Saturday, January 23rd at 1pm. The series offer a profound commentary on the wonders of bringing the next generation into the world, and explores the roles of parenting and upbringing of children into adulthood. The exhibition coincides with the publication of the artist’s new monograph On The Nest, published by Kehrer Verlag in November 2015.
Featured image: Dona Schwartz - Andrea and Brad, 16 Days, 2009. All images © Dona Schwartz, Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery