Nowhere does our culture present a more skewed set of expectations than around aging and marriage. The triumphs and tribulations of both occupy the most recent body of work from Texan photographer Aimee McCrory. In her ongoing series, now published in the elegant monograph Rollercoaster: Scenes from a Marriage, McCrory walks the corridors of her forty-three year-long marriage with husband Don, pausing on a variety of moments that hum with honesty, vulnerability, and humour.
While brushing up against the tensions ever-present in a long-term relationship, she simultaneously addresses the long-held belief that growing old is accompanied by feelings of shame and disillusionment. “It’s so humbling to become older but in some ways, it’s humiliating,” the photographer tells us. “People treat you differently just because your body looks older. It really works on you.”
McCrory first set about raising awareness of the joys and the challenges of growing old together but the result is something much more interrogative: a study of identity, at once tender yet entirely unflinching.
Drawing on her background in theatre, McCrory stages a tableau of images in a pseudo-documentary of her marriage, manipulating personal domestic circumstances just enough to heighten elements of mystery. “Interestingly, appropriating our marriage as subject matter served as a ‘meta’ experience for Don and I,” says McCrory. “The making of the work itself has become an integral part of our marriage. Therefore, it functions as an integral component in the drama. When I pulled back my lens to ‘document’ our life together, it became a mirror reflecting onto itself and I started perceiving our involvement with one another and the way in which we communicate physically and verbally.”
In this sense, Rollercoaster strikes at the very heart of photography providing not only McCrory but outside observers an opportunity to unlearn the fictions of familiarity and encourage us to imagine new ways of seeing and being. “I wanted to photograph relatively quiet moments but provide emphasis, a sense that the stakes were higher,” McCrory says. “At first Don was reluctant – he’s a much more serious character than me – but once he resigned, I captured some really special moments that I felt truly reflected both the good and bad in our relationship.”
It would be remiss to describe the scenes depicted in Rollercoaster as restrained – though it’s true, there are no gushing displays of emotion – instead, McCrory opts for a rather cinematic rendering of sincere and venerable intimacy. In one image McCrory sits on the edge of her sofa clipping the wispy hairs around Don’s ears while he sits on the floor with his iPad in hand in another, she pulls back her gown to reveal herself to Don, who stands in the doorway with a cheeky glint in his eye and a boyish smirk across his face.
“Neither Don or I came from a household where it was safe to be vulnerable so both of us are somewhat frightened at the prospect of being intimate with one another. In one shot we’re naked in bed with the covers over us and I remember thinking that we don’t even do this often. I couldn’t believe that photography was teaching me something I hadn’t realised about my own relationship.”
Rollercoaster contains a multitude of complex layers of emotion that gesture both inwardly and outwardly, granting the viewer enough ambiguity to place themselves in the picture.
“I think it would be hard to look at this work and not look at yourself and your own relationship. It’s not a perfect relationship. We’re way more complicated than that. But what makes our marriage a challenge, also makes it interesting. This is about pausing for that moment and taking a breather.”
Aimee McCrory, Roller Coaster. Scenes from a Marriage. 152 pages. Published by Kehrer Verlag.$56.00.