Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.
Find out more
Heybesee A1
CREDIT: Alice Chapman

Hey, Be. See. by Alice Chapman

RPS Women In Photography Member

Hey! Be. See. By Alice Chapman

Images © Alice Chapman

When I was a kid, we had a frieze on the playroom wall; Margaret Tempest’s An ABC for You and Me. We had the book too; a perfect little square of pictures. Each showed a watercolour animal with an object that began with the same letter as their name. There’s something so magical in childhood about anthropomorphic characters and I spent hours looking at the pictures. As a parent, I’ve come across many alphabet based books and illustrations over the years. The simplicity of form and the narrative structure - if you can call it that - is accessible and comforting, even reassuring. I wanted to create a photography project that utilised that same simple form, whilst making a direct reference to the artwork that had taken up so much space in my head and heart as a child.

Nostalgia is often at the heart of my work as a documentary family photographer. I try to create imagery for families that embraces the reality of modern life today whilst embedding a time bomb of nostalgia to enjoy later. Honest moments captured in their cultural context can include visual and emotional layers of meaning that reveal themselves as times change. So, embracing nostalgia - through representing the modern - as an attribute of a work appealed to me. 

The first photograph in the project was Damien’s. I’d photographed him at home with his family and I was drawn to his strong and confident sense of individuality. I made an environmental portrait of him wearing his favourite dress and the phrase “Damien has a dress” popped in my head and stayed there until the project idea was fully formed. The wording: Hey! Be. See. was also sitting in my head as a potential title for something in the future. I instantly put the two together. 

I decided to broadly include two types of photograph and two types of theme, each presented in the same way. Moment based documentary family imagery would be combined with environmental portraiture. Thematically, common experiences of childhood are then combined with unique aspects of individual children. Each photograph is then presented alongside text in the same format as the original ABC artwork, with an attempt to reference the hand printed font style. I felt that this combination would allow me to embed the core aims of my documentary family work throughout the project: championing individuality in children and families; and honestly representing modern family life. 

I looked through my archive and found moment driven photographs that were a good fit: William with his wobbly tooth and Beatrice with her bats. I also approached families to make new portraits and this process is still ongoing. Some letters have more than one photograph to allow for balance in the final edit. It’s quite a puzzle! I love the apparent surface simplicity - something in common with the original painted artwork - but then the realisation of the complex structure underneath. In painting, anything is possible. In documentary photography, only the real makes it into the frame. 

Authenticity is critical to the project. Victoire has a wonderfully strong personality and uses her young voice with confidence, so “Victoire has a voice” instantly felt right. Felix likes flags, but he also likes fossils and plenty of other things. I chose the “Felix has flags” portrait because of the honesty in his stance in the portrait as well as the inclusion of his own artwork in the image. I’m hoping for a balance of some lighter pages with humour or irreverence, and the comforting familiarity of birthday parties and wobbly teeth, alongside thought provoking images. I photographed Xavier with his extra special baby photo, showing the evidence of his IVF journey. (I thought a little licence for X was ok!). I’m also hoping to capture something of the journey through the ages; preschooler Akash with his art gallery and Isabella at the end of primary school with the internet. 

I’ve always loved the concept of artists making order out of chaos; something I’ve continually felt drawn to in my documentary family work. I’m hoping for a finished project that means something to others and entertains and perhaps empowers their children, but I’m also enjoying the puzzle-like process of creating a project with such tight restrictions. It’s said that restriction breeds creativity - another concept that appeals to me, particularly when applied to the photojournalistic ethos that runs through documentary family work. I feel lots of pairings and circles - ultimately an awareness of form - running through the project. I would love for the project to come full circle and eventually take the form of a little square book. 

Hey! Be. See. is in progress on Alice’s website.

IG @alicechapmanphotography

Images © Alice Chapman