Endless photographers and artists have spent their lifetimes documenting their lovers as both public and personal venture. Time and again, the roles of lover and muse have folded into one and the same in front of the camera lens. The American photographer Sally Mann, for instance – who famously said she makes no separation between herself as artist and mother – has taken elegiac and haunting photographs of her family, including her husband, Larry, for decades. Lee Friedlander photographed his wife Maria for over 50 years, taking his first photograph of her in 1959. And Nobuyoshi Araki’s most seminal series, Sentimental Journey, traced his relationship with his late wife Yoko Aoki, in tender black and white portraits.
In among these short affairs and lifelong intimacies, loves lost and changed, those that lasted and those that didn’t, slots Michael Northrup’s project, Dream Away. It’s a beautifully honest and illuminating portrayal of Northrup’s former wife from the moment they met in the mid-1970s, and an ongoing visual reflection of their relationship as it unfolded across the years. It’s a dreamlike visual diary, a constellation of snapshots offering a moving portrait of their time together, from young lovers to parents.
"I grew up in a beautiful, historic, small, conservative Ohio town on two rivers," Northrup begins. "I had great parents and was given a lot of opportunities, even if I didn’t always know in what direction I was headed. I learned to love irony and humour from those early years – my dad, being a doctor, surgeon and coroner, would bring humour to the dinner table on things like bowel obstructions. My whole family was great at extracting humour out of tragedy and that has given me a way of seeing. For me, creating images is all about my daily life, those meaningful pictures I'm able to extract from it, and the personal vision I bring to those visual narratives."
Though the relationship ultimately wasn’t to last, the project remains some of Northrup’s most intimate and affecting work. The experience of making it helped him to picture intangible emotions and respond lovingly, through photography, to the things that happened around him. Here, Northrup picks out some of the images that defined the project, and tells us how his relationship became a playground for his creativity to flourish.