Aubrey Richey

Aubrey Richey is a 28-year-old soon to be senior attending the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. She is majoring in photography but pursuing a minor in creative writing as well. Aubrey has always been fascinated with heavy emotions and narratives. She is a natural-born story teller. Aubrey often uses photography to hint at bigger stories and meanings. She grew up with her younger sister Emily in a woodsy neighborhood in the suburbs, and now the two of them live together in an apartment in Center City, Philadelphia. Aubrey has been documenting her younger sister’s life through photographs since Emily was born, seven years after Aubrey. Having a sister so close emotionally but so far away in age has impacted Aubrey greatly. Watching and documenting Emily grow as a person has been a strong inspiration for Aubrey. Aubrey describes both herself and her work as “childlike but wise,” and thanks Emily greatly for shaping her creative style.

Holding On Together

I originally started this project with the intent to photographically show the way my little sister holds onto her childhood so dearly. She cherishes her childhood in a unique way, and I feel, at times, she does not want to grow up. I can recall a recent conversation in which she told me fifth grade was the best year of her life, and that it all went downhill after that. She said it in a slightly joking manner, but I could sense some truth behind it.

Emily, who is seven and a half years younger than myself but in no way still an actual child, has a youthful charm that puzzles me and amazes me at the same time. She is the most imaginative person I know. She’s always creating something and always daydreaming. She holds onto all of her old objects and keepsakes.

Being her older sister, I got to watch her grow up into a young adult, but I never saw her childlike imagination go away the way it does with most people. When she was a child and I was teenager, I used her as the model to all my first photographs as I was just beginning to really get into photography. She would create elaborate costumes and sets for me, and she’d stand in front of the camera fearlessly for me and show off her creations and imagination proudly. This was a huge shared hobby for us – she enjoyed being the content of my photos, and I enjoyed photographing her. These are some of our fondest shared memories together as sisters.

As she got older, and especially recently, she has become more reluctant to let me photograph her because she now feels insecure in her body. Emily suffers from severe body image issues that stemmed in her mid-teens. Although that willingness to be in photographs has faded, she still has the same creative childlike energy – it’s deep-rooted in her. I wanted to show that energy, as well as her reluctance to be a “grown up” as an ode to my sister’s unique personality that I love so much. I told her this, and she immediately knew exactly what I meant and liked the idea. She knew it would be challenging for her due to her body image issues, but she said she was up for the challenge.

It was a challenge, though. For some photos, I tried to recreate images similar to the ones from her childhood where she had created spooky costumes and let me photograph them. It didn’t have the same feeling to it, though. Her confidence was gone. She wanted to hide her face. She wasn’t the same blissfully proud character I had remembered. I was holding onto something that wasn’t there anymore.

One day while shooting for this project, I sat in the front seat of my boyfriend Eric’s car, and Emily sat in the back with two other nine-year-old girls. To have her sitting in the backseat with the kids felt very reminiscent of how things used to feel when she was a child and I was a teenager. In this moment, I asked her something about taking my next photograph, but the photographs were stressful for her, and she needed a little break. She spoke up and replied very maturely by saying, “Aubrey, let’s discuss this later.” It felt so adult-like. The children sang obnoxiously beside her, something she used to do, but she was silent. In that moment, something snapped in me and I realized she wasn’t the same little kid who used to sit in the backseat of my mom’s van and let me take photographs of her.

The weight of the world has gotten to her, and although she’s scared to grow up and still holds onto her childhood dearly, neither of us can deny that she is growing up regardless, and right now she’s battling with some internal issues that are making the process of growing up extra intimidating.

Eric took note of this little moment in the car, and later told me it almost seemed as if I was the one holding onto my sister’s childhood so dearly. I couldn’t disagree. From that moment on, my project evolved into showing how both me and my sister are holding onto her childhood in different ways. I miss her confidence. She misses the safeness of being a child and being taken care of. I hope that one day she can feel confident enough in her own skin so that her childlike creative energy can shine proudly once again as it used to. She is my favorite person and she needs to realize how wonderful she is.

In this project, I want to show the pain and bittersweet nostalgia my sister and I experience when thinking about the way things were and the way things are. I also want to paint a picture of Emily – all parts included. Somewhere deep down, I am still that awkward teenager with a camera and she is still that little kid posing fearlessly for me, telling me how the world works.

To view more of Aubrey Richey’s work please visit their website.