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Nicolas Umbs

University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee

2016 Award Winner

Anchell Scholarship for Documentary Photography

Family Outcast: Documenting the struggle of fitting in with one’s own family

My sibling Brett and I have had a rough time fitting in with our family.  We have religious beliefs, sexual preferences and viewpoints of society that are not accepted in our household.  Growing up we never got along with our parents and we had to make our own way.  Through our youth we became very close, while distancing ourselves from our folks.  This project documents the separation between what my parents are allowed to see of Brett’s life, and what I am allowed to see.  I took the photos digitally and edited them to fit within a Polaroid-like format in order to show that the photos are meant to be looked at as a snapshot of Brett’s life.  They are meant to look as though any of these images could be recreated at any time.  Contrary to that fact I meticulously took over 500 photos during different times of day, in different lighting, and in different settings before my sibling and I finally figured out the true meaning behind the project. 

The first two pages, with the exception of the family portrait, show the shallow depth of field my parent’s vision is capable of.  It shows Brett at home with their cat, car, and trinkets.  Anyone walking into the home would be able to recreate any of these images, as Brett displays a distanced nature in all of them.  Brett never reveals themselves as they hide behind their sunglasses, sit at their desk, and play cards, all in a shielded manner.  The wrestling photo shows the most vulnerable state that they ever are in front of the parents, yet they only are on the mat for about 15 minutes at a time, only going into the stands to see the parents after putting different clothes on.  In the family portrait Brett’s face is blurred with long exposure, hammering in the idea that the parents aren’t allowed to see Brett’s true nature and that Brett doesn’t feel like they belong with the rest of the family. 

Photos featured on page three and four are taken in a much more private and intimate setting, with the exception of the one including Brett’s friends.  The friend photo was taken at school, a place where my parents will not go to visit, and the rest of the images were taken at my home instead of Brett’s, with nobody else around.  In the photos on these pages I tried to capture the strife, turmoil and emotional toll taken on Brett’s life both in a physical and mental sense.  Within the photos I tried to capture the emptiness and loneliness that Brett feels due to this isolation from the family.  You are able to see their scars from cutting, showing the physical toll this battle has left.  Also, you see them in a dress, sitting eyes closed, comfortable with themselves in this moment, even when they normally are not.  I show them after casting a circle, a wiccan process where they would proceed to call upon the dead, something that the parents have no interest in, and little knowledge of.  I tried to use my photos and the Polaroid-like format in order to show Brett’s soul in the most exposed way possible.

The photos were not easy to capture, as I needed to push Brett beyond their comfort zone along with myself.  As much as this collection of photos is about Brett, it is also about me.  Any of these photos could easily be swapped out with photos of me as subject matter and the meaning would still remain mostly intact.  However, in this set of pictures I act as a lens, and my personal relationships with parents and sibling shape my positioning and choice of pictures that made the final cut.  These photos show how guarded Brett is with our parents compared to how open Brett can be with me.  It demonstrates the trust within our relationship and how strong our bond is, even though we feel like we don’t fit in with the rest of the family.

 

Family Outcast - Nicolas Umbs - University of Wisconson Milwaukee

Family Outcast - Nicolas Umbs - University of Wisconson Milwaukee

Family Outcasts - Nicolas Umbs - University of Wisconson Milwaukee

Family Outcast - Nicolas Umbs - University of Wisconson Milwaukee

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