Liv Liberg: Sister Sister
Softcover, 17 x 24 cm, 506 pages
Liv Liberg (b. 1992) started photographing at the age of ten, and her four year younger sister Britt would become her muse. What started as child play developed into a serious passion and perhaps even some kind of an obsession for the siblings. They continued to interact in these intimate and playful settings for over fifteen years. This all led to becoming an impressive archive and in 2020, the time had come to translate the extensive body of work into a book.
‘Sister Sister’ (published with APE), now in its second edition, is a bulky documentation of how Liv Liberg portrayed her sister in various situations, with Britt often dressing up in their mother’s (rather exclusive and expensive) ‘haute couture’ and in a later age sometimes, intuitively, leading to being portrayed wearing almost no clothes. “We would sneak into the walk-in closet of our parents”, Britt explains in a short text on the back cover. “At some point [they] put a lock on it because […] they found out we were using Yamamoto suits in the rainy forest or Comme des Garçons dresses on the farm near the cows.”
Liv and Britt grew up in a highly creative family. Surrounded by music and theatre – their brother Bengt being a musician, their father Hans a renowned theatrical performer, and their mother Marliz a visual artist known for her sculptures, paintings, and drawings – it was to be expected that they would absorb a life of artistic ‘joie de vivre’ and inventiveness.
Their idyllic house at Hollandsche Rading, in the countryside near the city of Utrecht, was the perfect setting for their performances – ‘Droom in het woud’ (“Dream in the forest”) by Ata Kandó comes to mind as another example of a rural setting leading to a photo-fantasy set up within a family structure, be it that this classic in the canon of Dutch photography history was initiated by the mother (Ata) who then directed her young children into a more scripted theatrical and poetic – and thus fictional – production.
The Liberg sister act was also performative but far more documentary in its intent – being recordings of playful yet actual interactions. When asked to look back on her childhood, Liv says: “I’m the older one and Britt is my little sis but we get along very well, we always have. Obviously, we also had fights – like most sisters do – and we can still be annoyed with each other but we are honest and open about most things and able to talk things out.”
What’s more, Britt was meanwhile starting a career in ballet and loved performing while her older sister grew an interest in fashion as presented in magazines. “When we were really young, I already liked to dress her up and do her hair and in general we had a lot of fun together. It was never a question that I was photographing and she was modelling. This is just how it was, Considering our personalities and how we express ourselves I think it could not have been otherwise,” Liv explains.
Liv graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK) in 2017, and then started to assist the acclaimed Dutch art photographer Paul Kooiker for about two and a half years. “I learned a lot from Paul”, she says, “and he was also genuinely excited about the work I was making and wanted to show a small selection of prints to Jurgen Maelfeyt, publisher at Art Paper Editions.” Eventually, this resulted in ‘Sister Sister’, which has meanwhile been shortlisted for the Prix du livre d’Auteur 2021 at Les Rencontres d’Arles photo festival.
The book is rather hefty and voluminous but nevertheless feels very consciously edited. Liv: “As soon as I had all the images ready, I realised how much work I had in my archive, and it made me realize that the mass of it all was significant. It couldn’t become a portfolio selection of my work.” The process of editing itself happened quite naturally, says Liv, be it that it might lead to a totally different selection if she would edit it all over again. She explains: “You have to realize that I was only ten years old when we, me and my sister, started making these pictures but we’ve continued to produce new portraits until today. In the book, to give a good reflection of this long stretch of time, almost half of the pages are filled with the old work, from when we were still very young, and these are then mixed intuitively with the portraits that we created together more recently.”
‘Sister Sister’ is furthermore set up in a very smart concept which reminds of a calendar while the sequencing is not chronological. Liv: “Because there was so much work and in so many different styles, from so many years, a structure had to be created. I spoke about this with Jurgen (Maelfeyt) and Paul (Kooiker) and we gradually concluded that the element of time was important to structure the work. In the book, the years in which the pictures were made are all mixed up but all images in each segment are actually shot in that same calendar month – so all in ‘August’ was shot in August, be it in various years. This gave for a solid structure and it made the editing itself more easy and less emotional or visually oriented. The concept of months is also poetic, I think, and gives a certain seasonal feeling or even color to the images while remaining an open enough structure overall.”
With growing older and becoming more self-conscious the project also became more intimate and more intense. As of late, they’ve been doing several fashion shoots together which in a way makes everything feel less personal and more like ‘work’, sometimes. But when Liv and Britt started their creative endeavor, none of them ever thought of others – strangers – to see it. There is a significant difference, of course, between the playful sessions in a private setting and eventually having those images appearing in a book, now addressing an anonymous audience. “Me and my sister speak about this quite often,”says Liv, “and I think we are well-aware of the ‘photographer–muse’ dynamic. Even though Britt is used to performing and being the model while I’m comfortable behind the camera, she is the one exposing herself in the end. But I think that, because we are always open and honest about our feelings towards each other, all the time, this project will continue and perhaps, who knows, even lead to a second volume in ten years from now…time will tell.”