The Bonds of Kinship

Love makes for strong pictures

by , July 2023
Alessandra Sanguinetti The Necklace

Alessandra Sanguinetti, The Necklace, 1999; courtesy the artist; © Alessandra Sanguinetti

Some artists use photography analytically, deliberately suppressing their emotional attachment to their subject matter. Others embrace those ties, allowing them to manifest in their pictures. The exhibition Kinship: Photography and Connection takes the latter as its point of departure, featuring contemporary photographers who share a special affinity with their subjects.

“After two years of feeling distant from people during the COVID-19 pandemic, I respond to the genuine feeling and connection to others in this work, and hope visitors will, too,” explains Erin O’Toole, SFMOMA curator and head of photography, who organized this exhibition.

Kinship spotlights six artists with diverse backgrounds: Farah Al Qasimi, Mercedes Dorame, Jarod Lew, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Deanna Templeton. Four of the six — Dorame, Sepuya, Sanguinetti, and Templeton — live in California.

“After two years of feeling distant from people during the COVID-19 pandemic, I respond to the genuine feeling and connection to others in this work, and hope visitors will, too.”

—Erin O’Toole, curator and head of photography

Relationships are fundamental to each photographer’s practice. Sepuya photographs friends and lovers, exploring desire and the construction of queer spaces in his work. He subverts traditional conventions of studio portraiture and incorporates mirrors, drapes, and other elements into his richly layered pictures. Meanwhile, Sanguinetti has been photographing two cousins in rural Argentina for over 20 years, documenting their relationship to each other and their environment. “She approaches them on their own terms, even as young children,” says O’Toole, and the resulting photographs capture the complex reality of their lives.

The exhibition interprets the notion of kinship beyond its association with family. Templeton’s series What She Said (published as a book in 2021) pairs diary entries from her own teenage years with photographs of girls reminiscent of herself at that age. In her humane representations of teenage girls, who are often disparaged or trivialized in American culture, Templeton expresses empathy with her teenage self and other young women.


Deanna Templeton Moonbean Huntington Beach California 2014

Deanna Templeton, Moonbeam, Huntington Beach, California, 2014; courtesy the artist; © Deanna Templeton

Al Qasimi, Dorame, and Lew document their ties with their cultural communities in their moving photographs. Born to a Jordanian American mother and an Emirati father, Al Qasimi lives in New York and frequently photographs in Dubai, where she grew up. Both cultures intersect in her bold, distinctive photographs depicting private and public spheres. Her photographs portray human and animal subjects, often gesturing towards the kinship between them. Dorame is of Gabrielino-Tongva heritage, Indigenous people who first inhabited the area that is now Malibu, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino. Her lyrical pictures of land forge dialogue with her ancestors and the spaces where they lived.

Lew’s project Please Take Off Your Shoes (2018–ongoing) focuses on the nuances of Asian American identity. Lew embarked upon the project after learning that his mother was the fiancée of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man who was beaten to death by two autoworkers on the night of his bachelor party in Highland Park, Michigan, in 1982.


Jarod Lew Please Take Off Your Shoes

Jarod Lew, Please Take Off Your Shoes, 2021; courtesy the artist; © Jarod Lew

Chin’s murder galvanized Asian American advocacy around anti-hate crime and civil rights legislation in the 1980s, and inspired Lew’s present-day series. His works in the exhibition include portraits of young second-generation Asian Americans navigating the gap between their own experiences and those of their immigrant parents.

The types of connections presented in Kinship are familial, platonic, romantic, cultural, and in some cases geographic, but what elevates each work is the bond between the photographer and their subject.

Kinship: Photography and Connection is on view through November 26, 2023 on Floor 3.


Major support for Kinship: Photography and Connection is provided by the Lisa Stone Pritzker Family Fund.

Generous support is provided by The Black Dog Private Foundation, Katie Hall and Tom Knutsen, Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman, and Kate and Wes Mitchell.

Additional support is provided by James C. Hormel and Michael P. Nguyen Endowment Fund and Christopher and Michele Meany.

Caroline Harris

Caroline Harris

Caroline Harris is an assistant editor at SFMOMA, where she writes and edits content for the museum’s print and digital communications. A Bay Area native, Caroline is passionate about writing and majored in English at the University of Pennsylvania. When she’s not reading or writing, Caroline enjoys running, hiking, skiing, and exploring San Francisco.
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