Dutch-Canadian photographer Maxime Cardol didn’t grow up with sisters. She has a brother, and they spent their early childhood in Canada before returning to their native Netherlands with their parents when she was 6 years old. What inspired her, then, to begin her latest project making sun-soaked photographs of sisters in gardens, homes and parks? "I think it's an extension of my interest in women," she says. "Some sisters have this beautiful bond, it's like a friendship for life. Even though I don't have a sister myself, I can still easily empathise with the feelings between them."
The portraits in Sister are tender celebrations of familiarity and affection, of faces and the stories they tell. The series began spontaneously with sisters she knew, and moved on to those she came across via social media. "Alice and Lucy were the first people I approached. I've known Alice for some time but only recently found out she has a sister." She felt immediately drawn to the pair, something about their bond lit up in images, and she wanted to get them in front of her own lens. "Our shoot was so lovely and intimate. We had tea and talked and it made me excited to continue the search." So began an enduring fascination with sisters and the rituals and spaces that nurture their bonds.
The photographs she took of Alice and Lucy set the mellow visual style for the series to come. The two of them sit in Lucy’s bedroom, bathed in natural light, and Alice puts her arms protectively around Lucy; in another portrait, close-cropped, Alice rests her head on Lucy’s and each of them gazes with the same blue eyes directly into the lens. Later, Cardol met Grace and Hope, twins with long red hair and milky, freckled skin. There’s a particularly poignant picture of them in the park, green-grey eyes lit up in the sun and trees throwing shadows across their faces. "I haven't met many twins in my life," Cardol says, "but when I started talking to them, they finished each other’s sentences and said the same things at the same time. It was amazing!" When she photographed her friend Lou alongside her three younger sisters, it was exactly how she expected sisters to be: "Loving, fun, but also with some healthy competition which reminded me of my brother and myself." In the pictures, the four of them huddle together, at ease in front of her lens.
Cardol is endlessly inspired by the girls and women around her; one of her biggest influences is her mother. "I don’t have very clear memories from my early years but I’m so thankful to her for taking photographs and videos from the day I was born." This old family footage, she says, helps her recall the beauty of British Columbia – all that space and freedom surrounding them – as well as the "lovely, happy people" and being able to learn two languages from a young age. "It was a good time," she remembers fondly. This cataloguing of moments showed her the power of photography and its unique ability to crystallise memories and the people we love in our minds. From this experience, she says she’d describe her approach as "intimate and real", going on to say that she thinks "that’s what we need in the world nowadays".
When photographing siblings, Cardol looks for a certain connection that can’t be put into words. "It’s something in their eyes, and the energy that's around them. It's hard to describe that and to translate it into a photograph, but I'm trying my best," she says thoughtfully. Once she’s set a date for a shoot, she asks to meet the girls at their family home. "We always chat and I get a tour around the house…where we take the pictures is always spontaneous." With such a personal project, she can only respond to moments as they unfold in order to achieve the truest representation she’s looking for.
There’s an unbreakable bond between sisters. They can be your very best friends and know you like no one else; sometimes, as Cardol notes playfully, they can be your biggest rivals (in the healthiest way, of course). For those of us who don’t have sisters, we can look at these images and conjure memories of our intimate female friendships, and those that shaped us growing up. This is exactly what Cardol’s aiming for with the work. "There’s so much more to this than blood ties – to me, we are all sisters. And you don’t have to be sisters by birth to experience this kind of relationship. I have that sort of relationship with my two best friends." She hopes to expand the parameters of the work and make self-portraits one day, too. Her images are genuine, sensitive depictions of the people who sit for her, and a loving celebration of female closeness and sisterhood – both the sisters we have by blood and the ones we choose for ourselves.