We Are Family

By Tali Minor

Photograph of three people sitting at a dining table

Gillian Laub, Mom and Dad with the wedding planner, 2008, from Family Matters (Aperture, 2021). © Gillian Laub.

Portrait photograph of Gillian Laub

Gillian Laub, by Julianne Nash.

Who among us hasn’t looked around the dinner table and wondered, “how are we related?” Photographer Gillian Laub takes that existential question on a journey of photographic exploration in her new book, Family Matters. Here, Laub peels back a few layers for Bal Harbour.

Photography as therapy is how one might interpret your process of creating Family Matters. Would you agree?
The process of making this work was absolutely a form of therapy. That’s one aspect of the work. It forced me to look inward in ways that were very uncomfortable and unsettling. I think when we go to those difficult places and face them head on, that is where real growth can happen. The camera and writing has always been how I process, digest and reflect.

The tension between insider and outsider, belonging and estranged is so powerful in your work. Do you still find yourself wrestling with those feelings?
I was born wrestling with those feelings. They don’t exactly go away, but as I have gotten older and continue to find my place in the world, they have lessened. I am grateful that my family accepts and loves me for who I am with all our differences. In all of my work I have always been attracted to certain tensions within people and culture. It’s how we navigate them that is the interesting and challenging part.

Photograph of a woman, man and young child sitting at a table outdoors with an elderly man standing in the door frame

Gillian Laub, Chappaqua backyard, 2000, from Family Matters (Aperture, 2021). © Gillian Laub.

When you set out on this process of discovery “to get closer to what was making me so uncomfortable,” as you put it, did you recognize that this project would resonate with your viewers in a way that could be equally as therapeutic for them?
I first make my work because I feel utterly compelled to. The dream and hope is that it will resonate with others. Family is about love—with all its complicated dynamics—and that is something I think we can all connect with.

The Trump presidency marked a turning point that you define in Act III of the book, “What, You’re going to ruin our family over this?!” May I ask, how have the family dynamics shifted since he’s been out of office?
There is a huge sense of relief when my family text message chain is no longer filled with fighting and antagonizing. That used to give me daily stomach aches!

Photograph of a young girl dressed in a ballet unitard active in a dance, while her family sits around her and watches

Gillian Laub, My cousin Jamie with captive audience, 2003, from Family Matters (Aperture, 2021). © Gillian Laub.

Photograph of an elderly man helping an elderly woman out of a car, dressed in an opulent fur coat

Gillian Laub, Grandpa helping Grandma out, 1999, from Family Matters (Aperture, 2021). © Gillian Laub.

“Family Matters,” Laub’s solo exhibition, is on view through January 10, 2022 at New York’s International Center of Photography.


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