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Picture Show #Fieldwork: Dona Schwartz's Empty Nest Portraits and the Aftermath of Your Thanksgiving Meal

Pam and Bill, 2 months, 2010 Dona Schwartz' ongoing two-part series On the Nest captures people at both ends of parenthood: Expecting Parents...

Pam and Bill, 2 months, 2010

Dona Schwartz' ongoing two-part series On the Nest captures people at both ends of parenthood: Expecting Parents in the freshly arranged bedrooms of their coming children, and Empty Nesters in the former bedrooms of their kids who have since moved out. She uses a large format 4x5 camera shooting one sheet at a time in a slowed down process. Despite what viewers might expect, both groups of parents share expressions of discomfort as they are each struck with life transition and the uncertainty of the future.

As the first photographer to be featured in our new monthly assignment series Field Work, we asked Dona a few questions about her craft, and we asked her to give the GOOD community a photographic assignment (a DO) to take on during Thanksgiving (we'll surface our favorites in the next few weeks.)

Nicole and Dan, 21 days, 2008

GOOD: What is your relationship to the people you photograph?

Dona Schwartz: I have photographed family, friends, and total strangers: it all depends on the subject I am pursuing and the needs of the particular project. I had never met most of the people I photographed for On the Nest. The fact that they invited me into their homes so that I could make the portraits published here is an expression of trust for which I am truly grateful.

Kristin and Ryan, 18 days, 2006

Kathy and Lyonel, 18 months, 2010

GOOD: Is there a difference in how you approach strangers versus family members when you photograph them?

Schwartz: There are so many contingencies involved in photographing people. It can be easier to photograph people you know intimately, or much more difficult, depending on the situation. I am genuinely interested in people—in how and why we do the things we do, and how we live our lives—and when I photograph strangers I think my respect and curiosity are clearly apparent. By the time I’m finished shooting we aren’t strangers anymore.

Andrea and Brad, 16 days, 2009

Debbie and Jim, 2 years, 2010

GOOD: There is a sense of longing and anxiety in the faces of many of your subjects. How crucial is this to the work and your larger practice of making photos?

Schwartz: My background as an ethnographer informs my photographic practice: I am an avid observer of the interplay among social interactions, cultural practices, and material objects. The richness and complexity of daily life astounds me, and my photographs map what I discover while paying close attention to the routines and rituals we enact every day. When I shoot formal portraits I situate my subjects within their own environments—places encrusted with narrative gems to be mined. I ask the women and men I photograph to look directly at the lens and to adopt a natural expression. What is absolutely crucial to my work is that I am committed to honestly depicting and to honoring the life experiences I portray in my photographs.

Christina and Mark, 14 months, 2010

Bobby and Kevin, waiting to adopt, 2012

Gloria and Alan, 5 years, 2009

GOOD: So this is where the 'Field Work' portion comes into play. Give the GOOD community a photographic “DO” that they can take home and shoot during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Schwartz: Photograph the aftermath of your Thanksgiving meal.

To fulfill this Field Work assignment, tweet us @GOOD and post your photos to Facebook with the hashtag #Fieldwork

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