Master Shots: Winky Lewis

photographer Winky Lewis interviewed by Sharon Kitchens

I first connected with Winky Lewis via our mutual friends Steve and Kate Shaffer who own Black Dinah Chocolatiers on Isle au Haut. Everything that comes from Kate, Steve, and that island is good so before I met Winky I already liked her a lot. When Boston Globe Magazine did a story on my little homestead and hired her to take the pictures any nervousness I might have felt blew gently out the window. While being an exceptionally talented photographer she is also one of the kindest human beings I have known. In the past year I have realized an efflorescence in her images as she pushes boundaries documenting her children who are growing into young adults. It seemed a good time to learn more about the quiet person behind the camera and to share her and her work with The Maine’s readers.

Q&A

What is your earliest memory of photography? How did it come to you or how did you find it? 

Gosh, that is hard. I do have vivid memories of taking lots of pictures with my little Kodak camera that was so fun! Opening those envelopes of photos was as good as Christmas. Also, my father took great photos of our family when we were young, they are really beautiful. I’ve got many of them stashed away in a box right by my desk. Those pictures have always been very important to me. Family photos can be very powerful. I’ve come across some that have literally made my heart skip a beat with some new realization or thought. My brother edited some super-8 video from our childhood recently and I swear that file, with the two minutes of imagery, is one of my very very favorite possessions. I cannot watch it without a flood of tears.

What strikes me about your work is that you’re able to capture such intimate situations with your family, but how light and comfortable they feel. As if with so many of your photos you have invited the viewer in to sit down for family dinner. How much do you think about the audience when you share these images? 

I don’t think about the audience at all. I just take the pictures because I love doing so, it sounds weird to say I have to make them, but I do feel I have to make pictures. If I think about an audience at all it is after I’ve shot the images and get to work on them on my computer. I’m working of a project now with a dear writer friend and she recently asked if I’m trying to tell a story, and in most cases, I’m really not, I’m just capturing and recording when I’m shooting.

Why did you choose your children as a subject? 

Ha! I’ll get to the obvious answer in a second, but I will say that my favorite subject matter has always been children. Even when I was a kid. My mother got very sick when I was eight years old and at about that point I started taking lots of pictures, many were of my little brother, who was only two at the time. I think I was trying to divert my attention from the scary situation with my mother towards what was healthy, beautiful, and innocent. And I was preserving that in cold, hard photographs. Even better! I continued to photograph children always, even in college, when photography became more of a serious endeavor for me. And these last thirteen years, I’ve been lucky enough to have three of my own kids to photograph. I’m with then all the time, they soak up most hours of my day, so as long as they’ve been around there was never a question as to who or what I would photograph. I am very fortunate.

How do your children feel about having their picture taken and what do they think about the pictures?

The answer to that changes all the time, I think, for each of them. They grew up with me taking lots of pictures, so they were just comfortable with the camera. Recently I’ve been more focused on my daughter, I think I’ve gravitated to her more last year as she was eight years old and that was a big year for me as a kid. Turns out it was a big year for her too, and I think we’ve made an interesting record of that. And there was a lot of teamwork involved with that body of work. My boys have moved on from being interested in being in the pictures, but I’m hoping they’ll have renewed interest, their interest does seems to ebb and flow. And as far as what they think of the pictures, often there isn’t that much interest. I have to say though, I feel it is a huge compliment when they like them.

Sally Mann said of photographing her family there is a vulnerability to it. Would you agree, how does this vulnerability come out?

Certainly. I think there is a vulnerability in just putting any images out into the world. The fact that I’m sharing photographs of my children is something I often think long and hard about. I forever need to put myself in their shoes and think about how I’m putting their images out into the world, and how they’ll feel down the road. Usually I don’t think of my photos as photographs of my children, but more as ideas, or feelings, or memories, but I can never forget that these are my children, and I have to be careful and respectful. They are giving me a tremendous gift by allowing me to photograph them and I hope they will always see it as a healthy collaboration.

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