Louisa Marie Summer - Jennifer’s Family

Schilt Publishing, 2012

“If you take us out of this raggedy-ass area you will see we’re just like you. It’s just that we’re a little more violent. We’re from two different worlds, you and me”. Tompy to Louisa. Thus begins this story.

Jennifer is only 26, has already got four children and only three bedrooms to share with her family in a “block” in Rhode Island, in South Providence. Rhode Island is a small community where the rate of unemployment and crime is particularly high and most of the population (mainly Hispanic and African-American) live below the poverty line.

The series of German photographer Louisa Marie Summer therefore focuses on this woman and her life partner, Tompy.

Louisa Marie spent about two years living with Jennifer’s family, in an attempt to regulate, by writing it, that low reality of the social ladder through a photographic dialogue, thus tearing up the veils that hide the social scourges, giving substance even to the most unpleasant, materialistic and earthly situations. In other words, empathically joining this family and sharing their emotions.

This is truthful photography, that is that kind of photography where the magical thinking of verisimilitude acts. We’ve learned a lot and enough how one of the characteristics of contemporary photography is quite its revealing itself through specializations and categories. And this is the case, not rare, on the contrary rather widespread in research reportage, to be able to show a certain experience of reality, or story of reality, and “simplify” it through, in this circumstance, Jennifer’s iconic biography.

If this type of photography were somehow included into a literary tradition, it would certainly be entrusted to the poetry of true theorized by our Luigi Capua: there is a persistent determination from the author to consecrate herself to the principle of  descriptive impersonality, however repaying with absolute fidelity to the images;  namely that part or signature that is enough as a mark of authorship in the unfurling of a story, is melted inside, as much with omniscience as with weightiness.


Jennifer’s Family is the author’s first book published by Schilt Publishing, (Amsterdam): a sequence of 61 pictures in internal and external settings, alternating to reflections on music, on motherhood, on dreams and on the children’s names. It’s therefore not only  Jennifer’s family but familiarity with it to come out, a confidence in a low voice, a 61image long chat and a super surveillance on facts surrounding the author, between life and screenplay, image and text. A still frame on the daily experience of peaceful living even under circumstances of flagrant promiscuity.


INTERVIEW with the author

VIHow did you meet Jennifer and how did you manage to enter her family?

LMS – Beginning of 2009 I started a project on foreclosure in South Providence, an urban neighborhood with a large African-American and Hispanic population, where the rate of unemployment and criminality was particularly high. A great part of the population lived under the poverty threshold. I decided to not just look at the home’s exteriors, but to ask questions about what kind of people live here, and how do they manage to survive.

On one of my early visits to South Providence, I saw Jennifer’s children, playing hide and seek in their backyard. After watching them for a while they asked me to join their game. Like most caring mothers, Jennifer was reserved and wondered why this obvious stranger was talking to her kids. However, as soon as I started to speak with my German accent she knew I was not from the area and certainly not a policewoman. I introduced myself, my research plans, and my photographic work and she became less suspicious.

Half-hour into our conversation I followed Jennifer into her apartment and was allowed to take my first pictures. Few days later – her phone number didn’t work – I nocked on her door and heard the kids scream: “mom it’s the photographer!”

Since then I have spent many hours, days, even years with Jennifer, her family and their circle of close friends, and developed a close relationship and friendship.


VIWhat was it like to live in a different dimension from your everyday life?

LMS – One of the reasons why I love photography is that it allows me to approach different lives and to share intimate moments.

At first, I was overwhelmed by the family’s chaotic way of living. With time, I appreciated the social and open manner of this family and learned how their social network effectively supports their lives. Becoming part of these supportive relations gave me a sense of reciprocation: they let me take pictures and I helped them in different ways such as driving them to run some errands or to visit family, take the kids to the park… Nevertheless, it continued to be a challenge to balance my photographic work with the demands a friendship brings along.

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family

VIDo you think you affected in some way the life of the family with this participating observation?

LMS – The fact that a woman her same age from outside her community, even as far away as Europe, was giving her attention seemed to make her feel special and proud.

As a close friend and finally an integral part of her family I became a trustable contact person to them. I discussed with Jennifer many personal and emotional details and I am confident and happy we both learned from each other.

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family

Jennifer's Family

VIWhat was your method?

LMS – To receive the trust I needed to take personal and intimate photographs I had to be empathetic, sensible, respectful, and patient.

Confidence-building, especially for Jennifer’s life partner, was to show pictures, explain the way I work, and to include them in my work process. Seeing the pictures reduced their fear of being exposed in a wrong way.

Participating in the family’s life, I always was prepared to take a picture at the ‘decisive moment’. In this moment I literally disappeared.

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family

VIWhat are your cultural references?

LMS – I am born and raised in Germany and belong to a middle class family. I travelled the world and have met and learned from people of many cultures.

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family

VIHow did the collaboration with Schilt Publishing happened and could you tell us about your upcoming projects?

LMS – I met Maarten Schilt at Paris Photo and the Off Print Book Fair in 2010. He was convinced by the book dummy Jennifer’s Family and after a meeting in Amsterdam we agreed to publish the book together. Overall, the collaboration went fine and the book was published Spring 2012.

Currently, I am working on two projects – one about widows in their mid 90ties, who live happily and mentally fit by themselves. They even take care of their own lives despite the age-related health impairments.

The other project is about the march of my German grandfather as a mountain soldier through Ukraine during WWII (1941-1943). I follow and document his traces and listen to the memories of contemporary witnesses and their descendants.

Untitled from the book project  Jennifer's Family


Louisa Marie Summer, born 1983, studied Photo-Design in Munich and achieved her Master of Fine Arts in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI. Summer’s work combines documentary and fine art photography; to her, photography means approaching the lives of other people with curiosity, respect and empathy. Her complex and intimate images tell stories about people in different social structures and everyday life. Her images are full of emotional power and leave room for interpretation and artistic debate.Summer’s work has been published in various media such as Rolling Stone; Vogue Business; Süddeutsche Zeitung; Leica Fotografie International; 6Mois; Dummy; Eyemazing, and American Photography 25. In 2012 her second book “Jennifer’s Family” was published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam, NL. Louisa Marie Summer has earned distinguished awards such as Latin American Photography, Lens Culture International Exposure, Reportage by Getty Images and Mary Clerc Scholarship. She was nominee for Prix Pictet, Joop Swart Masterclass, and PDN 30. In the last years she was invited to participate at The Russian Moment – 20 World’s Leading Photographers Expedition, Month of Photography in Luxembourg, 4. Chinese-European Culture Dialog and the Eddie Adams Workshop XXIII. Her work is placed in museums and private collections such as the Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy Collection in Sharon, CT.

Louisa Marie Summer is based in New York and Munich.

Hardcover: Hardbound, 96 pages with 64 photos in full colour
Publisher: Schilt Publishing, 2012
Language: English
ISBN: 978 90 5330 7663
Product Dimensions: Format 24 x 18 cm

Jennifer's Family - back entrance of the family's house


Curated by Valentina Isceri