Mother + Daughter: An Interview and Photo Series

I’m known for being hypercritical and hating things on impulse (people who wear sandals more than five miles from a beach, Grizzly Bear, most art), so when I was sent a mother-daughter series of photographs taken by Carra Sykes, I started to get my inner old man on and prepared to mock. The problem was this: the series (shot on a Nikon D700) is pulled off flawlessly. Instead of a weak combination of photographs held loosely together by a tenuous concept, I was looking at beautiful documentation of the connection two people can have. It’s personal, but universal, and speaks to how two people can exist in each other’s space and effect each other in positive way. Carra and her mother, Marti Sykes, are as charming and delightful as the images themselves.

That being said, I still hate sandals and people who use too many adverbs.

Interview by Cameron Patton

So, Marti, Carra’s uncle accuses you of stealing her clothes. Is he wrong, or are you stealing your daughter’s clothing? You seem pretty casual when dressed as her.
Marti:  Truth be told, I do wear a lot of Carra’s “hand me downs” or stuff she’s ready to give to Goodwill! Many are old t-shirts, but I do have a few nice things that I have from her.
Carra:  These mainly include band t-shirts. She is always wearing my old Rooney shirt!

Marti, Do you do any arts work, either as a hobby or professionally?
M: I am not an artist.  Carra gets that from my husband (who is an architect). I do like photography, but very much an amateur.  I like to take nature photos and I do like to capture family events, vacations, and so on.

How would you describe your relationship, both while Carra was growing up, and now? Are you close; is your relationship one of those “like sisters” deals?
C: I’d definitely say my mom has been a rad encourager to me growing up and now. I don’t lean towards us feeling like sisters, but I would say we get along pretty darn well. We are super close.
M:We have always had a good relationship, even when she was a little girl.  We both have a crazy sense of humor, so we are always laughing about something.  Not to say that we don’t have our arguments and disagreements, because we do, just not that many. My mother and I are very close, and I think that also has something to do with why Carra and I are.

How often are helmets worn in the bathroom? It seems a little too natural to be completely staged. Twice a week?
M: Depends on how dirty the bathroom is. I think the helmet pose shows how natural Carra and I are in front of the camera.
C: Sometimes we like to train and get ready to go to space just in case NASA calls. So it’s pretty natural.

Do you usually like to work within conceptual restraints, such as this one? Or was this kind of a one-time thing?
C: This was one of the first times a series has worked out for me, which is definitely encouraging me to do more. I’ve wanted more series in my portfolio. My mind goes a mile a minute and so having specific themes or structural ideas is super-helpful and has kept me disciplined as an artist.

What was the overall mood of the shoots? It seems as if you two were having a lot of fun.
C: It’s always pretty funny and lighthearted. Sometimes, I’m afraid I get a little bossy just because I am a perfectionist in some areas. I love seeing my mom get stoked about doing the series. Her reaction is definitely a highlight.
M: The shoots are light and fun.  The only time there is any seriousness is if the light is changing, and Carra is a stickler for having the light the same in each photo shoot! So sometimes we can mess around, but other times, we have to remain focused on how we are standing/sitting/arms are hanging/eyes are looking…  Sometimes we just start laughing and that is one of the best parts of doing a shoot.

Carra, You’re also an illustrator and designer. Do you have a preferred medium, or does the situation deem the mood and medium, etc.?
C: I went to school for design and am growing to appreciate it and like it more and more. I grew up drawing all the time. And when I don’t have my sketchbook it drives me crazy. I love illustrating and am really into children’s books. Photography is one of my favorite mediums to use and interact with. I also love pen straight to paper without any pencil. One of these days I will paint with oils, until then it’s all about pen to paper.

These pictures are almost a representation of everything you’ve been through. Any thoughts towards making it a series featuring others, and their connections?
C: I’m definitely in the works of brewing up some other ideas to document people in a separate series. Hopefully it’ll bring me out of some comfort zone and be a bit challenging. I like a challenge, and I really like people.

Do you guys feel closer after sharing each other’s skin? Was there a Freaky Friday, “I understand you, I love you” moment?
M: Sometimes I look at our outfit for the shoot and wonder if I can pull it off!
C: We love the Lindsay Lohan version of Freaky Friday! I think the project has brought another layer to our relationship. It’s rad because it’s collaboration and I love collaborations. I’m not sure if there was an “I understand you” moment, but I definitely feel like I’ve learned more about my mom’s childlike side.


Have you two collaborated before on anything? Will you be working with together on anything after this? I imagine you’ll be seeing each other again…
C: We’ve collaborated in life moments. Nothing similar to this Mother + Daughter series. We are definitely going to keep the series going. Right now I live at home, so thankfully we will be seeing each other again pretty often! I’m away for about three weeks, so it’ll be a little time before the next photos appear on my website. Who knows, maybe another collaboration separate from Mother + Daughter is in order.
M: We have not collaborated on a photo shoot before, maybe collaborated on making dinner or an outing!  I hope that Carra will consider using me in another project of hers in the future.  I know we will most likely continue the Mother + Daughter project for a while, after she gets back from touring with Heavy and Light, that To Write Love On Her Arms puts on. And until she gets a job that moves her to another location, I think we will continue this project and others as well.