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Behind the Photo with Ina Esch

2nd Place Award in the “Grandparents” category. Photo by Ina Esch, Germany.

What is the story behind your winning photograph?

In spring 2020, I wanted to document one of the visits of the kids at grandmas house. She is a loving, playful woman. She lives in her beautiful house surrounded by a giant garden. They were preparing the yard for spring and she prepared a little picnic for the kids. They wanted to have it in the beach chair, but underneath the cover. Grandma was delighted by this idea, and joined them. I noticed the light and was getting a position, where I was aiming for some body parts looking out of the cover. I love a surrealistic, dreamlike look for my images. When her hands started to look out as she was closing the cover, I found my picture. I loved the detail of the hand with the red fingernails in an unconventional context.

What specifically drew you to this moment that you captured?

Specifically I was drawn to her hand reaching out of dark, almost like cut off, like the Thing T. Thing from the movie Addams Family.

What was your experience while making this photo? What challenges did you encounter in the process?

I needed patience, because the kids where jumping in and out of the beach chair to get their picnic stuff before they finally closed the cover. I was torn how little to show, I was thinking about just showing her hand, reaching out of the cover, but I was too much drawn to the shape of the kids bodies under the cover. Finally I decided to give the image a little more context and include the shape of the bodies of the kids. 

What does this photo mean to you and what do you think it might mean to others?

I like grandmas old hand with the red nails, emphasized by the dark cover of the beach chair. I love knowing that it is her with my kids underneath. For me, this picture means a lot, because it shows how dedicated she is to play, and to be in their world. 

Maybe this photo is a little bit funny to others, because it is not easy to understand what is happening. Also I like to think of the hand as an invitation to think about the age and identity of the person, and the things, the hand has been through. 

How or why is photography important to you?

Photography is a feeling for me. I am drawn to feelings and emotions, the ones of my subjects, but I also try to show my own feelings in a frame. Photography is a way for me to document the world, as I see and feel in it. It gives me a way to speak, when words seem not accurate enough. 

Often I am drawn to a moment, or beautiful light. I pick up the camera when I am feeling sentimental or overwhelmed. I like to think of my camera as a magnifying glass. I often realize in post there is so much more to a frame, that my overwhelmed brain would have missed without the picture. I also like to tell stories in putting things a little bit out of context, or concentrate on a certain intimate detail that drew my attention. I usually try to get close, and to give the picture a surrealistic look, I like the idea of a picture looking almost like a memory. The more surrealistic a frame, the more I am drawn to it. 

View more of Ina’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram @inaesch

The Documentary Family Awards is an international competition in search of the insightful and meaningful ways that documentary photographers explore the interpretation of family.