Fake Family Portraits From the Art World 

Self-Portrait with Laurie Simmons at her home in New York.

Chandler Holmes

Throughout college, Chandler Holmes took a lot of photos of his family. When he applied to graduate school, one of his interviewers suggested that he continue this trend by flying back and forth to visit them, an expensive proposition for a student already coping with tuition and other living expenses. “I’d hate for you to have to get a surrogate family,” the interviewer said when Holmes balked at the idea. The idea of using a different family seemed a bit far-fetched but it stuck with him, and a few months into school he began to explore ways to create a project about family that didn’t revolve around his own.   

“I initially thought I would photograph myself with another family in the same way I had done that with my own family,” Holmes said. “And I decided I wanted [the family] to be an artist because I’m interested in the art world and what that means.”

Self-Portrait with Melissa Ann Pinney and her daughter at their home in Illinois.

Chandler Holmes

Which is how he came to Larry Sultan, as an influential artist who inspired Holmes’ decision to become a photographer. While exploring Sultan’s work and exhibitions, Holmes came across his 1991 group show at the Museum of Modern Art titled “The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort,” which sought to address American domestic life at that time. It seemed the perfect group of people with whom to create a fictitious series of family members.

Through connections with professors, email blasts, and cold calls, Holmes started his series “Moving In.” He first met with the photographer Eileen Cowin, photographing her at home. But when he looked at the portrait he realized that he also needed to be in it so he photoshopped himself into a framed photograph resting on her bookshelf. “It reminded me of something a proud art mom would have on her wall,” he said.

Self-Portrait with Larry Fink at his home in Pennsylvania.

Chandler Holmes

Self-Portrait with Sage Sohier at her home in Massachusetts.

Chandler Holmes

He thought about going back to take another portrait of Cowin in which he were also present but decided instead to photograph himself with the subjects in all the portraits moving foward. 

For the most part, the artists leave the staging of the images up to Holmes, although a few of them have presented him with their ideas of where or how the photographs should be taken. Holmes also thought about emulating each photographer’s work but decided against it, feeling it was important to create his own brand of images.  

Self-Portrait with Eileen Cowin at her home in California

Chandler Holmes

Self-Portrait with James Casebere and his daughter on vacation in California.

Chandler Holmes

The portraits are also a mix of what would seem to be typical family dynamics, some appear to be distant, others warm and engaging. “They aren’t all the same even though I’m in all of them,” Holmes said. “It’s almost never a representation of the actual event.”

Although the idea started out about creating fake family portraits, Holmes said that it’s also a statement about the art world.

“What started to become fascinating to me was that we often talk about the art world being impenetrable,” he said. “There’s definitely an element of selective inclusion … and that also tied back to the show in 1991. I realized when doing it that the show claimed to say, ‘This is what America looks like right now,’ but it wasn’t. It was understood they were middle-class and there were selective inclusions to have people of color in the show, but of the 26 photos I’ve taken, how many [of the artists] are white?”

There are more than 40 artists Holmes has yet to photograph, some of whom have been difficult to track down, others whose schedules haven’t worked out, and a small group who simply said “no.” While he would like to include all the artists, it’s not dependent on completing the work. In a way, it’s like scheduling a long overdue family reunion: Even if everyone can’t make it, you still need to invite them.

Self-Portrait with Jo Ann Walters and her partner at their home in Connecticut.

Chandler Holmes

Self-Portrait with Doug Dubois at a party in New York City.

Chandler Holmes

Self-Portrait with Adrienne Salinger at her home in New Mexico.

Chandler Holmes

“I want to be able to say I’ve gone through the trouble and exhausted all my options before saying it’s complete. It’s better to have 11 people who said no, they’re never going to do it; then it feels complete.”